Breaking News
More () »

Construction is expected to start soon on a school to replace Robb Elementary. Some in Uvalde say it's too soon

There are a lot of mixed feelings in Uvalde about the new school and about what to do with the old one.

UVALDE, Texas —

The City of Uvalde is getting a new school, following the devastating mass shooting that happened one year ago. 

After the shooting that killed 21 people, including 19 children, community leaders decided that Robb Elementary should be closed and a new school be built elsewhere. 

No public funds will be used because the new school will be built using donations. 

"Think it's an important building to the State of Texas and, in general, to be able to say, 'When somebody in Texas has a need, we step up and help our own,'" said Chris Huckabee, the CEO of Huckabee Architects, the firm designing the new school for free. 

But there are a lot of mixed feelings in Uvalde about the new school and about what to do with the site of the old one. Some people say it’s too soon to make a decision about what to do with Robb Elementary since there is so much history there. 

Built in the 1960s, Robb Elementary holds a lot of memories, dating back decades before the tragic shooting on May 24, 2022.

"You really don't think about the importance of a person or a building until something happens," said Diana Olvedo-Karau, who attended Robb Elementary as a child. 

Olvedo-Karau was there in 1970 when Hispanic students walked out of classes to fight for equal rights. 

"There is a historical significance to Robb Elementary, back from the walkout to the tragedy and everything in between," Olvedo-Karau said.

She said it would be beneficial to build something else at the site where Robb Elementary is. 

"My prayer is that there will be a significant memorial, that there will be a park, that there will be playgrounds, that there will be a learning center for people to continue to see the value of education," Olvedo-Karau said.

Before the deadly shooting, many community members who went to Robb Elementary had fond memories of their time there. 

"It was nothing, really, for there to be a big gathering of grandparents and parents who would come over. Teachers were wonderful. It was really a tight-knit little neighborhood in school," Mickey Gerdes said.

Gerdes attended the school and so did two of his three children. 

As the Uvalde community gets ready to say goodbye to the school, it's bittersweet for some because of the history and the stories and memories it holds. But they are also getting ready to say hello to the first new school in the district in about 40 years.

"This tragedy, as in most tragedies, positive things come from that. And so, now Uvalde will have a new school," Olvedo-Karau said.

Community members say they already needed a new school before the tragedy, but the district didn't have the money to build it. 

"This community doesn't have the tax base to support a bond election that could build a new elementary school or multiple elementary schools. So we've always had to work within our budget and try to make the best decisions we can," Gerdes said.

About a month after the shooting, the "Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation" was created to raise money to build a new school. 

"I think all of Texas collectively owned the grief of Uvalde. And it's only right that we should collectively own the healing process as well. And I look at this school as part of that healing process," said former State Sen. Beverly Powell, who serves as the foundation's treasurer.

Foundation leadership said they've worked with families of victims and survivors, a community advisory committee selected by the district and the school board.  

"[The] past six months especially have been [a] really good time for people to come together and to provide input and to kind of go through the healing process as we are designing the school," said Tim Miller, executive director of the foundation.

The foundation also held community meetings to get input about the new school. 

"My team's actually been in Uvalde since September of last year, helping design and working through the design of the project. So it's been a very slow process compared to a traditional design process. And there's a reason for that: we wanted the community's voice to be heard," Huckabee said. 

"I think they've been a little guarded as well. And we respect that," Huckabee continued. "And we've tried to earn their trust by listening, being slow to act and making sure that this was their building at the end of the day." 

But some Uvalde residents feel like there hasn't been enough community input.

Olvedo-Karau said this is all happening too fast, and people still don't feel comfortable weighing in. 

"You know, the tragedy and the emotion behind that and the anger and all the other emotions that go with what's happened here – I don't know that it was the best time to move forward with that particular project so quickly," Olvedo-Karau said. 

She said the location of the new school, which is about two and a half miles northeast of Robb Elementary, doesn't fit the needs of the community. 

"The congestion on that side of town where the new school is going to be placed is absolutely horrific, and adding another building over there is going to make that even more so. And so, I'm not quite sure why they decided that was the best option," Olvedo-Karau said. 

The location was decided by the community advisory committee. 

"There are a lot of opinions about where the new school should have been. But the district did what the district is supposed to do, and that is create a group of individuals that represents a broad spectrum of the community. And they did a lot of work to select the site," said Gerdes, who is part of the Moving Forward Foundation. 

Olvedo-Karau said the committee that chose the new location didn't have the right voices at the table. 

"For a leadership that failed its community to hand-pick the committee members and everything else that's involved with this new school and not really have any community input is quite tragic in itself," she said.

Regardless of the differing opinions about where the new school should go, the foundation said it will be a state-of-the-art facility. They hope it will also serve as a memorial to the lives lost at Robb Elementary. 

"I guess the new elementary school is some positive that's coming out of it. But I don't think anybody in town would hesitate to give it up if we could go back and undo May 24," Gerdes said. 

The new school will include subtle elements to represent the Uvalde community and pay tribute to the victims of the shooting. 

"They'll be murals in one academic wing that have 21 butterflies and then another one, they'll be a mural that has 21 honeybees, in and all through the building," Powell said.

The foundation still has some funds to raise to reach its goal, but it is expecting to break ground and start construction on the new school in July. The goal is for it to be finished by the spring of 2025. 

There is still no word yet from the school district on a name for the new school or what will happen to the site of Robb Elementary.

Eric Pointer on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram  

KVUE on social media:Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Before You Leave, Check This Out