Fort Bend ISD response to hearing held December 18, 2018 (12/18/2018)
Fort Bend ISD requests court ruling allowing it to rebury remains of 95 individuals discovered on District property where construction of a career and technology center is underway
Fort Bend ISD (December 18, 2018) – Full statement from FBISD following December 18, 2018 hearing in 434th District court.
The District is currently constructing the James Reese Career and Technical Center, a $58 million state-of-the-art career and technology center that was approved by voters as part of a 2014 bond program.
The center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019. It will offer advanced courses providing career opportunities in agriculture and natural resources, architecture and construction, arts and audio video communications, culinary arts, cosmetology, education and training, information technology, law and public safety, manufacturing, transportation and logistics. Students will have access to dual credit courses and multiple opportunities to earn industry certifications while completing coursework at the center.
An abandoned cemetery, presumed to be part of a state prison operated from 1870 to 1911, was discovered during construction of the center.
Associate Judge John Hawkins ordered exhumation of the remains in June of 2018. A team of archeologists hired by the District exhumed the remains of 95 individuals over a four-month period. The remains are currently being kept in storage boxes awaiting reburial.
Texas Law requires that the remains be reburied in a county, municipal, or perpetual care cemetery. In October, the District and the City of Sugar Land agreed to a final resting place for the remains at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, an existing city-owned and maintained cemetery that has a shared history with the land where the remains were discovered. Both the Texas Historical and Fort Bend County Historical commissions participated in the planning discussion and supported the District’s plan.
Fort Bend ISD has since requested that Judge James H. Shoemake grant a previously-submitted petition that would allow the bodies to be reburied as agreed by the District and the City of Sugar Land. The District has outlined the potential hardships students and taxpayers will experience by the uncertainty and any further delay.
While construction of the center continues in areas not affected by the archaeological discovery, cost increases associated with the delays and potential redesign are rising each month. The District has already incurred an estimated $5.5 million in construction delays and for archaeological observation, investigation, exhumation, and historical analysis. It is anticipated that further delays will cause the District to spend an additional $7.5 to $8.5 million to ensure that other parts of the center can open as scheduled.
If the court does not allow the bodies to be reburied at the city-owned cemetery, the center would have to be redesigned to a different area of the property. The cost to construct the redesigned center would add an additional estimated $18 million in costs to the $58 million-dollar bond project, which could push the project an estimated $25 million over budget.
“Our District has a responsibility to our students, taxpayers, and the citizens who voted in support of this project to avoid the continuing delay and economic harm being caused to the taxpayers,” said FBISD Board President Jason Burdine. “The District and the City of Sugar Land reached an agreement to bury the remains in a city-owned cemetery in October. The only hold up now is that we need approval from the court. Further delay will leave the remains without a final resting place and will add millions of dollars of unbudgeted costs to the project. The District’s mission is to educate students. It is legally prohibited from operating a cemetery and we need the court to approve the plan to rebury the remains at the city cemetery without further delay.”