At the intersection of private property rights and the public good lies a fundamental question of governance: Where does one end and the other begin? And at the intersection of Sears Street and Armstrong Avenue in Denison lies a case-in-point — the 96-year-old brick behemoth formerly known as the Central Ward School.

At the intersection of private property rights and the public good lies a fundamental question of governance: Where does one end and the other begin? And at the intersection of Sears Street and Armstrong Avenue in Denison lies a case-in-point — the 96-year-old brick behemoth formerly known as the Central Ward School.


Its second floor windows are broken. Those on the first floor are barred or boarded up. The red brick is crumbled in places and recently repaired in others. The grounds show signs of reclamation: cleared trees and brush; a fence of hewed deadwood, lashed with ties, preventing easy access to the front door; "PRIVATE PROPERTY" signs encircle the structure.


The owner, a Colombian immigrant and real estate entrepreneur named James Roa, purchased the property about a year ago. He says he wants to turn the dilapidated building into a community center. The city of Denison, citing its legal authority to demolish eyesores, is fighting to spend $115,000 in public funds to raze the schoolhouse.


"On Aug. 19, there was a (Denison City) Council meeting, and I went there and I said that there was no reason to demolish the building because it’s structurally sound to begin with; all that needs to be done is cosmetic," said Roa as he explained his situation from the front porch of his home, located just down the street from the schoolhouse. "It was like I had not said anything! (The Council) raised their hands, and they were in agreement (to demolish the building). For something this important — because that’s my business, I buy a building and I fix it — I think they did not follow due process."


Roa felt strongly enough to ask for an injunction against the city, doing so on Sept. 18. District Judge Jim Fallon concurred, at least for now, issuing a temporary injunction that prevented the city from demolishing the school or impeding Roa’s repairs.


"The Court finds and concludes that James Roa … will probably prevail on the trial of this cause," wrote Fallon in the order for issuance. "The city of Denison … is commanded forthwith to desist and refrain from demolishing the building."


The city filed an answer brief with the Court on Oct. 14, arguing that Roa’s petition be denied on legal grounds. Acting City Manager Renee Waggoner said the judge is expected to rule by the end of the week. Waggoner is serving in that role while City Manager Robert Hanna is away for a number of weeks on personal business.


"The Council ordered the demolition process to continue in September, and that’s when the litigation started," explained Waggoner. "Because it’s in litigation, we put that on hold. The judge will be making the decision, hopefully by this Friday."


Waggoner said the six-figure price tag for the building’s removal is unfortunate, but necessary.


"We don’t like spending money to tear down buildings; we like to prevent demolitions," she said. "But if it becomes an attractive nuisance, than we’re willing to take that step."


Denison’s Chief Building Official Dale Jackson, while recommending the Council approve the building for demolition in August, said the structure’s problems are too numerous and Roa’s funding, too short.


"Staff’s concern on this is there is quite a bit of traffic through the area; we’re concerned that someone could be close to the building and portions of the brick or stone could fall off and hit someone," Jackson explained to the Council prior to its vote. "We have been working with the owner, and he does not appear to have the funds to repair it, and we would recommend demolition."


Roa said the city has refused to acknowledge his progress to bring the structure into compliance with local ordinances.


"I have not heard even one good, positive comment from a city official about the items that I fixed," said Roa. "I have removed the broken glass from the first floor, and I started putting new glass on the windows. I spent almost a month working on (a chimney the city said was dangerous). Brick-by-brick, I transformed that chimney. I would like for the city to acknowledge that there have been drastic improvements made on the building."


Roa’s long-term vision is a transformation from community eyesore to community multicultural center, he said.


"This (building) could be an opportunity for young people to learn something new and to improve society, improve themselves and be useful to society," Roa said.


For its part, the city is standing firm on its position that the schoolhouse is beyond repair.


"(Roa) didn’t pull any permits, didn’t get any inspections, and the biggest concerns still haven’t been resolved," said Jackson. "The heavy stonework around the top of the building — we don’t want some child playing near the building and suddenly have one of those land on them."


"We would like to see buildings taken care of, but if they’re not we need to take action," said Waggoner. "If the judge says we’re good to go on Friday, we’ll move forward with the demolition."


According to Roa, that would be a monumental mistake.


"There have been several people from the city saying things on the negative side," Roa said, "but I have the truth on my side. That’s the point. The truth is the building is a beautiful building, and it looks more beautiful every day. And it’s needed by the community. I’m passionate about this building."