Multiple Protests at Board Meeting draw no response; Community speaks out: “Save Pawpaw’s House”
By David Taylor
The Aldine ISD school board got an earful at their last board meeting during public comments from members of the community urging them to stop the eminent domain action taking 78-year-old Travis Upchurch from his life-long home.
At the June 14, 2022 board meeting, the Aldine ISD board of trustees approved plans to build a state-of-the-art stadium facility that, according to the district, would meet established safety standards as well as create an enhanced experience for student-athletes, parents, spectators, and other members of the community.
None of the comments made at the meeting were tied to any official action taken by the board at the September meeting.
For almost 30 minutes, leaders in the community and residents pleaded with board members who many of them believe made their decision based on incomplete information. One by one, they lined up to share their dismay with the board.
“I can say, for the first time that I’m ashamed to be an Aldine ISD alumnus, and y’all should be ashamed here as well,” said Ruben Salazar, president of the East Aldine Civic Association.
Salazar appeared before the board to demand the immediate stop of the “egregious use of eminent domain.” “We stand in solidarity with the Upchurch families,” he said.
Salazar reminded the board of the deep roots of the Upchurch family in the community dating back to before they were born.
“The fact that this family can still call this community their home is a testament to their unwavering loyalty, and love, and admiration,” Salazar said.
“You cannot begin to imagine what the Upchurch family is feeling right now having your property forcibly taken from you for something as stupid as a parking lot,” he continued.
He also pointed out the lack of need for more parking.
“You all know, as well as I do, for the amount of people that actually attend our graduation ceremonies and our football games, that amount of parking spaces there is quite enough,” he said.
One of Upchurch’s daughters, Tina Robinson, is a retired teacher and the wife of a high school football coach.
“Being the wife of a highly successful football coach, I’ve had the opportunity to watch his teams play in some incredible football stadiums in this area such as the (Berry) Center in Cypress, Legacy Stadium in Katy, and the recently built stadium in Tomball just to name a few and I can clearly state that Thorne Stadium, with all the new bells and whistles, would not be a stadium that his team would consider,” she said.
Robinson said despite the stadium’s amenities, the location and lack of surrounding commerce would not attract playoff teams to their site, at least after the first round.
“It is my understanding that this project is over budget by $16 million, which is totally not the best use of hard-earned tax dollars,” she said.
Tom McGinn, Upchurch’s son-in-law, reminded the board that they have received more than the 28 public comments announced in July.
“At the August meeting, you conveniently left out that over 200 additional comments were received during that timeframe and not one of them agrees with taking an elderly man from his home for some precious concrete,” he said.
Carlos Silva, alumni of Nimitz Class of 2000 and the chairman of the board of directors at the East Aldine Management District, appealed to the board to reverse their decision.
“You weren’t given incomplete in formation when you were initially asked to vote on the end matter. But now that you know what’s at stake, you’re entitled and obligated to make a better choice. Do not let the inertia of an ill-informed decision win the day. We all lose if that happens. The buck stops with the board. When Aldine ISD goes from giving away backpacks to taking away backyards, something has gone seriously wrong, and something needs to change,” he said passionately.
Unbeknownst to most at the meeting, the Upchurch family had met privately with the district on Monday before the Tuesday meeting.
“We learned that in the 89-year history of Aldine ISD, this is the first eminent domain action by the district,” said Travis Upchurch, Jr.
It was also the first time for the family to face something so daunting.
“I look forward to learning and working together with the school district on a compromise that allows my dad to stay and does not block progress for all these students,” he said.
“This could stand to be a teachable moment for us, the district, and the public. We’ll look forward to working with you on a compromise and showing everyone that Aldine is still the neighborly friendly place it always has been,” the younger Upchurch said.
In a statement to the Northeast News, the district said, “Balancing the needs of our school district to support student safety and education while also preserving our community history requires delicate conversations. Negotiations continue and additional direct dialogue with the Upchurch family is underway to discuss viable options related to the family’s property. We are hopeful to reach a mutually beneficial resolution very soon. No condemnation suit has been filed at this time.”