All of the Lake of Friendswood Park will remain open to visitors, at least for the time being.
After a contentious hearing Wednesday, both sides in a longstanding dispute over who owns parts of the land the park rests on agreed to keep to the status quo as the issue winds its way through the court.
“I believe both sides are in agreement that they will not destroy any property or erect any impediments to public use,” Judge John Ellisor said.
The issue over the park began when attorneys representing Joseph Tostado asserted the city of Friendswood is using both its own property and his property for a park, and that officials have closed off roads around his land limiting its usefulness, court records show. At one point, Robert Clements Jr., an Alvin attorney representing Tostado, even threatened to remove the park facilities.
Tostado inherited more than 5 acres south of the Lake of Friendswood from his father.
Based on Wednesday’s hearing, however, the issue of ownership appears somewhat complicated, rooted in multiple plats going all the way back to 1911. Over the course of almost two hours, attorneys for both sides questioned a land surveyor hired by the city to determine property boundaries before the $1 million park project began.
The city recently finished the park project at Lake Friendswood, which voters approved in a 2013 bond election. A 1-mile concrete path and boardwalk surrounds the park with benches, picnic tables and exercise equipment.
Tostado’s relatives in 1993 went to court over land ownership claims, and that lawsuit ended with a judge giving land back to them, with the exception of an easement the city used more recently to build the park, argued Bill Helfand, an attorney representing Friendswood.
Chuck Davis, a land surveyor, testified the city was within its rights to build on the easement. But Clements questioned whether anyone had documented proof of an easement on Tostado’s land.
“Do you have a piece of paper showing the exact square footage dedicated for this easement?” Clements asked Davis.
Davis testified that he did not, but that it’s implied because of earlier documents.
Wednesday’s hearing was over a temporary injunction the city requested after Clements gave the city until March 16 to address concerns about the parts of the park in question, although Tostado’s attorneys have taken a less aggressive stance since then.
But Ellisor on Wednesday did not make an official ruling on the injunction, saying there were still matters that needed to come before the court. But both sides agreed not to make any changes to the park until the case proceeds.
Tostado first filed the lawsuit against the city in January 2018.
Before Wednesday’s hearing, Clements told The Daily News he would only place a fence around Tostado’s property if the injunction was denied. But at the hearing, Clements agreed they would not even do that.
Tostado, however, wants the city to remove all the park benches, city signs, concrete sidewalks, a boardwalk, fences, a footbridge and all gates and obstacles obstructing access to Windmere Road and McFarland Drive, Clements wrote to Helfand in the Feb. 18 demand letter.
The first fire drill was one of the hardest days.
A few weeks after the fall start of the school year, Santa Fe High School was required to hold a fire drill.
It was the first time the school had to practice an evacuation since a shooting in the fine arts hallway left eight students and two teachers dead and another 13 people injured.
School officials realized a fire drill would be traumatic for students and staff that were in the school during the shooting, Principal Rachel Blundell said.
The school took the lightest touch it could, she said. It didn’t trip fire alarms, and gave parents and students plenty of information about when the drill would happen and what it would be like.
“The day itself was traumatic to begin with,” Blundell said. The students were going to have to go down the same hallways they had evacuated out of months before.
The school got through that and has continued to take each day one at a time, Blundell said.
“We still have triggers,” she said. But in recent months, a relative calm has seemed to settle in the school, although more emotions are starting to resurface as the first anniversary of the shooting approaches.
Santa Fe school officials on Wednesday said much of the past year has been like that — dealing with the aftermath of a tremendous trauma, amid attempts to keep things at the school as normal as possible.
“Obviously, it’s been a difficult year for all of us,” said Superintendent Leigh Wall. “We have worked really hard and diligently to put a lot of measures in place to enhance security and mental health support.”
In the year since the shooting, some of the changes at Santa Fe High School have been obvious. The school district invested nearly $3 million in security upgrades, adding more police officers on campus and installing a secure entrance vestibule and metal detectors at the front of the high school.
Other changes were made to the building as well. Art classes are being taught in science classrooms, for lack of a better place to put them, for now, officials said.
The school district added six new police officers, and 10 new “campus safety assistants,” four wellness counselors and 256 new video cameras, as well as automatic door locks and a mass notification system.
Students have adjusted to the security improvements, Blundell said. The metal detectors no longer seem to delay classes. Some 60 percent, about 650 students, at the high school have attended a counseling session, Blundell said.
Blundell was struck by the amount of unity the school’s students have shown over the school shooting, she said.
“The best thing that’s going on in Santa Fe High School right now is our students,” Blundell said. “Our student body has been completely driven on recovery.”
She noted that the high school’s sports teams have had “more playoff runs than we’ve ever had,” and arts students have similarly been successful in statewide competitions.
School officials believed that most of their post-shooting plans have worked or been accomplished, they said. A few things, like changes to the student dress code, had to be re-adjusted after they were first announced, but the group on Wednesday said there were few examples of things that didn’t work out as expected.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been frustrations with some of the actions taken by the district, and fears about what the future holds.
School officials, citing the ongoing law enforcement investigation into shooting, have said little about the district’s knowledge about Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the 18-year-old charged with the shooting.
“There’s a lot of information we still don’t have and answers we still don’t have,” Wall said. “Until we have those answers, we won’t be able to respond. We only have the information that we have.”
That being said, there’s also no apparent plans for the district or the state to begin an independent investigation of the events of May 18, an endeavor that other schools that endured mass shootings have undergone to varying extents.
The district does soon plan to release the results of a safety audit, conducted by the Texas School Safety Center at Texas State University, Wall said. That audit evaluated the school’s current security measures, not the security on May 18, 2018, Wall said.
Wall and school board President J.R. “Rusty” Norman also have spent a significant amount of time lobbying the Texas Legislature for funding that will allow the district to continue affording the security upgrades it has made over the last year.
On Friday, the last full school day before Saturday’s anniversary, attendance will be optional at the high school and the district will again have extra resources on hand, officials said.
After clearing that hurdle, the school district’s attention will turn again to the next hurdle, whatever it might be, Norman said.
“What I know is that it’s not going away tomorrow,” Norman said.
The city will soon begin buying properties around the site of a municipal incinerator demolished earlier this year.
The Galveston City Council on Wednesday authorized the purchase of 19 properties near the site of the 1943 incinerator on Lennox Avenue, a structure the city tore down earlier this year.
Demolishing the incinerator had long been on the city’s books. Officials announced the buyouts this summer, citing health and safety concerns of the properties surrounding the incinerator.
The total cost to purchase the 19 properties, which include both houses and empty lots, will be between $696,204 and $872,540, depending on the appraisals, according to the city.
Last year, the city approved spending $113,500 for firms to appraise the properties.
These properties would fall under the city’s eminent domain, its right to take private property for public use, Assistant City Attorney Kim Coogan said.
“Our initial effort is to buy these properties from willing sellers rather than having to use eminent domain,” Coogan said. “Virtually all the property owners have accepted those offers.”
The city is still working to find and make contact with one property owner, she said.
One property owner, however, has declined the city’s offer and wants to stay in her home, Coogan said.
“We are looking high and low for some solution that she can be happy with and we can be happy with,” Coogan said. “We do not want to kick her out of her house.”
The city could explore granting the resident a life estate that allows her to remain in her house and grant it to the city at a later date, City Attorney Donald Glywasky said.
It’s a project that’s been a long time coming, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough, with other family members, owns four properties among those being purchased by the city in the name of his father, James D. Yarbrough Sr.
He has already agreed to sell those properties to the city, he said.
The buyouts were necessary because the ground around the old incinerator is contaminated with various types of chemical pollution, the city has said.
The city plans to remove and decontaminate soil and cap the ground with concrete, officials said. Properties along Lennox Avenue also will be capped with concrete and properties along 59th Street will be decontaminated and rezoned to prevent residential use, officials said.
The city isn’t sure what it will do with those properties once it completes remediation, but potential uses could include a warehouse, storage for records or a new site for the Galveston Recycling Center, 702 61st St., Yarbrough said.
The incinerator, erected to burn garbage collected in the city, had been idle since 1955 when the city shut it down because of high operating costs.
City officials also have had concerns about asbestos.
Officials have long sought the funds to tear down the facility, but federal dollars allocated for recovery of Hurricane Ike in 2008 brought the money to complete the project.
This project has to be finished by the end of the year, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
“So far, it’s all on schedule,” Maxwell said.
A $35 million project to repave and raise FM 3005 by more than a foot might have residents asking questions about temporary problems, but the long-term benefits should be good for the West End, residents said.
The project should begin by the end of the month and will raise FM 3005, also known as Termini-San Luis Pass Road, from 6 feet to 7 ½ feet, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Danny Perez said.
As the major thoroughfare from the West End to the rest of the island, the department did consider yearly traffic volumes when designing the project’s traffic control plan, Perez said.
The road serves as the main route to West End beaches to the 7.2 million tourists who visit Galveston annually.
During the two-and-a-half-year construction, residents should expect to have access to their homes and businesses at all times, Perez said.
“We may have short closures to repave their driveways, but that should be completed within an hour,” Perez said. “In those cases, the contractor would provide advanced notice.”
From Jamaica Beach to the seawall, where the road has two lanes traveling in each direction, crews will close it down to one lane when they’re replacing storm sewers, he said.
The state also will implement one alternate lane closure during construction and some of the road raising, but crews will always maintain two directions of traffic, Perez said.
The project won’t require any flaggers, he said.
The project might affect residents, but FM 3005 could use the drainage improvements, Sea Isle resident Susan Graham said.
“Everybody thinks it’s a great idea,” Graham said.
The project could be an inconvenience, but the results and changes to FM 3005 will be worth it, said Claire Reiswerg, an owner of Sand ‘N Sea Properties, which manages numerous vacation rental houses on the West End.
“The end result will be what counts,” Reiswerg said. “There’s never a time when it’s convenient to do roadwork.”
The project will be completed in three phases moving east to west, Perez said.
First, crews will improve drainage and signals for about eight months. The project will replace most of the culverts and bring some roadside ditches back to original grade. Some culverts will be upgraded to increase water flow.
Second, crews will raise the asphalt, a phase lasting 18 months. In the last phase, the crews will add the seal coat, overlay, signs and striping, which will last another four months.
The project should have no effect on private property and will not add any new lanes, Perez said.
“It is always our goal to work with the contractor to both minimize impacts on the traveling public during construction and to complete the project as soon as possible,” Perez said.
FM 3005 does need some drainage work, but not a full foot and a half raise, said Jerry Mohn, president of the West Galveston Island Property Owner’s Association.
“That’s pretty significant,” Mohn said. “I don’t think it’s got any drainage problems.”
He wants more communication on what the elevated road will look like when completed, he said.
Crews are only raising the pavement section of the road, but will modify the side slopes to accommodate the new elevation, Perez said.
The project is meant to keep the highway, which isn’t protected by the seawall, safe to drive during storms, Perez said.
The state department also has made preparations to suspend construction and open all lanes in the event of a needed hurricane evacuation, he said.