Architects upset over HISD not awarding enough contracts to African American firms

June 7, 2013 4:24:48 PM PDT
In November, Houston voters passed a nearly $2 billion bond to improve the city's schools. But as the work gets underway on designing those improvements, some who've bid on the jobs and not gotten them are speaking publicly about their distaste for the process.

When the largest school bond in state history passed, HISD celebrated.

"It's phenomenal," HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker was thrilled.

"Houstonians understand we don't have another choice, we must invest in ourselves," Parker said.

Seven months later, though, some suggest that's not happening.

"All of the gravy has been given out. The plumb jobs are gone," architect Willie C. Jordan said.

Jordan has worked on HISD projects in the past, even helped renovate Wheatley High School. He says the lion's share of work on this new $2 billion bond is going out of the city and not to black-owned companies.

"I'm sure every architect who got some work this time is a capable architect, but there are capable architects everywhere," Jordan said.

The Houston Chapter of Minority Architects went a step farther, sending a letter to HISD in which it contends that just 2 percent of the awards so far have gone to African American-owned companies while 27 percent of HISD is African American; that of the six contracts awarded to design historically African American schools, none went to Houston-based firms owned solely by African American architects.

"We'd like to see them get an opportunity, a fair shake at the remaining projects that are left to be handed out," said Anzilla Gilmore with the National Organization of Minority Architects.

HISD says of the 23 firms chosen so far, 12 are minority or women owned; nine are minority owned; 20 are locally based, and the other three will partner with Houston firms. It says there will be more opportunities for winning bids.

Jordan says what's done is done, but that the district's percentages don't mean much.

"Don't come to me with a percentage saying 'minorities,' because as I've said before, minorities can be construed to mean everything. If you look close enough, you'll find a few cats and dogs in there," Jordan said.

We asked the HISD administrators and several of its board members to talk on camera about the process and the awards. They declined but the district did say it welcomes and appreciates community feedback.

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