Potential child immigrant shelter suffered safety problems for years

Inspection reports, former principals tell of many problems at the vacant Terrell Middle School; Houston inspectors failed to inspect it for years while kids were there
Terrell Middle School, a vacant school on Crosstimbers being considered as possible site to house unaccompanied children caught crossing the border, may not be safe for young children, according to two former principals and inspection reports reviewed by ABC-13.

The public learned the school was on the short list as a possible housing site last month when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee led federal officials on a tour of the school. Right now, many of those children are being housed in facilities on the Texas border and on military bases.

"They're on the floor in facilities that are not child friendly," Jackson Lee said at the time.

But interviews and records show that Terrell Middle School may not be all that child friendly.

"I think to myself, would I want my granddaughter in this building? Would I want my children in this building?" former principal Lori Morrison said. "And no, I don't,"

Morrison was a principal at Terrell when charter school KIPP rented the building recently.

"The fire marshal lived at my building while I was occupying the building, for safety," she said.

The fire marshal's inspection reports show a building with many problems.

Problems include: Exit plans not marked. A fire alarm that's not audible. Holes in the ceilings and walls. No way for the handicapped to get out in case of a fire. Electrical hazards. Numerous leaks.

Read the inspection reports for yourself here.

Morrison also told us that there aren't enough bathrooms and the locker room showers didn't work. In addition, there was a pest problem.

"I can just imagine little ones going into this building and being petrified," she said.

One more issue: There are so many exits, Morrison said, having the building serve as overnight for children is problematic.

When KIPP rented the building, Morrison said that she trained her team so as to keep children safe, and KIPP also supplied mobile buildings to provide extra bathrooms and spaces.

Morrison left in 2010. Her successor, Olive Moore, was principal until 2013, when the KIPP school moved into a new facility.

Moore said the building would need a "major overhaul" to make it safe for small children.

ABC-13 also uncovered a two-year gap of fire inspections at Terrell.

Houston fire marshals inspected the school on August 10, 2011 and found plenty of dangerous issues during that inspection. The marshals said they would return on September 21.

The building was not inspected while occupied again, records obtained from the Houston Fire Department show.

"Thank you Jesus for keeping us safe for two years," Moore said, after we told her about the two year gap.

When asked why inspectors ignored the follow up, Houston Fire Marshal Richard Galvan said his inspectors went back but the school was closed.

But that's simply not true. Children were in that building until June 2013, according to KIPP officials.

And while no final decision has been made on Terrell, an inspection done after Jackson Lee's tour of the building shows many of the problems remain in that 50-year-old building.

Read that inspection report here.

"Someone in another country is praying for their child that someone over here is speaking up for the babies," Morrison said.

Producer: Trent Seibert
Related Topics:
politics Ted Oberg Investigates
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