Saturday, June 17, 2017

History of Travis State School revisited!

Travis State School (first known as Austin State School - Farm Colony) was a living center that was operated as a farm colony, work facility, and educational facility a farm colony becoming eventually a work facility and an educational facility for the mentally retarded citizens of Texas operating from 1933 to 1996. The institution taught the mentally retarded how to be self-sufficient. Travis State School itself was located at FM 969 and Decker Lane 8 miles east of Downtown Austin located near the Colorado River.


In 1930, Texas Governor Miriam A. Ferguson and Dr. J. W. Bradfield proposed an idea to the Texas Board of Control along with Texas Mental Health Mental Retardation to create a farm colony, work facility, and educational facility for the mentally retarded citizens of Texas. The Texas Government had purchased 241 acres of land from Greg Wilson, Annie LaRue Scott, and six other residents in the year of 1932. In 1933, the Texas legislature established Travis State School as the Austin State School - Farm Colony as an annex/branch of the Austin State School.

Travis State School itself was located at FM 969 and Decker Lane 8 miles east of Downtown Austin located near the Colorado River. East Austin, further away from US Highway 183 was all farmland with ranches which resulted in an ideal location for Austin State School - Farm Colony.

Both mentally handicapped individuals and physically handicapped individuals lived at Travis State School. Mostly mentally handicapped individuals lived there. Most were non-verbal. The school was mostly compromised of multi-handicapped students. Travis State School is very similar in setup to Marbridge Foundation and Down Home Ranch.


The farm colony started as a true farm community in 1933. Texas Government along Texas Mental Health Mental Retardation had felt a need to place mentally retarded citizens in a separate home away from the rest of society. The mindset of society was to place mentally retarded citizens far away from so they wouldn’t ever have a need to come into the metropolis as Austin State School was set up as an autonomous community.  Texas Government along TX MHMR ideology was for the mentally retarded to produce farm products for other ‘State Schools’ and institutions. This taught the mentally retarded how to be self-sufficient. Travis State School was set up as an autonomous community.

Austin State School - Farm Colony was intended to provide a home for mentally retarded male patients who could no longer further benefit from training at the Austin State School and who were able to do such farm work such as gardening, farming, dairying, mowing, and such related tasks. The first students were transferred from the Austin State School to the farm colony in October 1934 which at the time had only one building. However, there were female students even in 1934 despite the original intentions of the institutions for males only.

At first, Austin State School - Farm Colony was just for men and eventually women. Children came later. ‘State School’ facilities were gender segregated due to a prevalent belief from the time period that associated mental retardation with promiscuity, alcoholism, and immoral behavior.

In 1939, student population was 450. Only 7-8 students had ground paroles. Salaries for farm work was $27 per month. Eventually due to inflation the pay rate was raised to $40 per month. Employees worked 12 hours a day. Dentists worked 8 hours a day. There were 45 female students working at the farm colony.
A staff of 45 women employees and 90 male employees took care of 450 students on a daily basis. Condition were not too primitive.


However on January 14, 1941, the Texas Legislature and Texas Government were considering closing down the farm colony due to the fact that the farm colony was a total failure as the farm colony could not produce enough to maintain for the patients at the institution and other institutions run by the state. However the farm colony remained.

By 1945, the farm colony had six buildings with offices. The farm colony became a separate institution from the Austin State School in 1949 despite having the name ‘Austin State School’ which it was always a part of. 1949 brought big changes to Travis State School. The farm colony was always Austin State School despite was others say. A plant nursery operated there at Travis State School from 1933 to 1990. The school grew their own vegetables. Beef and pork were raised in the farm colony.


By 1955, TX MHMR had acquired an additional 195 acres from 8 more residents all of whom owned farmland. The Austin State School - Farming Colony campus eventually grew to encompass 68 buildings that spanned to the 436 acres you see today owned by KIPP Austin.


Farming operations at the facility slowly ceased in January 1961 due to the fact that the farm colony was a total failure. The farm colony could not produce enough to maintain for the patients at the institutions. The farming operations did not cease due to mental health care reforms in the 1960's due to popular belief. Farming operations ceased due to lack of attention and criminal negligence.
To reflect this change, Austin State School - Farm Colony was renamed to Travis State School in January 1961.

Travis State School had its highest peak of patient enrollment of 1,800 patients/students in 1968 all of whom had been transferred from other institutions. Later included was a swimming pool, cannery, storerooms, more offices, and a sewing room.

In the year of 1970, Travis State School received a grant from the Hospital Improvement Project which made it possible for the use of a unit system of treatment. A new Vocational Evaluation and Training Center was opened and staffed through a grant from the Texas Rehabilitation Commission. The water tower was constructed over a graveyard. Female students were first admitted in 1973 for the first time since the institution gradually opened in 1933.


The reasons why Austin State School - Farm Colony ceased operations was due to revisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1974 and the oil recession of the 1970s that greatly effected the United States economy. Texas Government discovered the free labor residents and inmates provided was considered somewhat exploitive especially for the high functioning residents. High functioning residents were assigned to take care of low functioning residents. The State of Texas could not afford to pay residents and inmates as workers. So residents and inmates worked for free. This in turn was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1974.

The courts ruled in 1974 residents and inmates in these institutions run by the State of Texas (federal, state-run, or otherwise) were entitled to protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This was a tragedy for some of the residents and inmates residing in these institutions. They had no sense of purpose and had idle time sitting on the ward. Despite that, state run programs were still readily available. Despite that, the nursery was still in operation until 1990.


The Texas Government and TX MHMR had began changing its focus from institutionalization to integrated placement in local communities as this trend was becoming nationwide in the United States in the 1980s. ‘State Schools’ began to see a decline in enrollment. This was a result from efforts in deinstitutionalization. By then, state officials began following this trend. The Texas Government and TX MHMR had began changing its focus from institutionalization to deinstitutionalization.

In 1981, farming operations at the facility ceased for good due to lack of enrollment, lack of maintenance, criminal negligence, and bad results. All what was left in its place was the institution.
The Travis State School functioned as an Independent School District (ISD) from 1981 to 1988. After the year of 1988 due to lack of enrollment and federal funding, Travis State School relied on the Manor Independent School District to provide academic instruction through its "mainstreaming" program instead. The Travis State School Independent School District and Austin State School Independent School District were shut down by the state due to lack of enrollment and deinstitutionalization.


In the 1990s, Travis State School was renamed to Austin State School Annex but still kept the name ‘Travis State School’ as many people referred to the institution by such name despite what other say. Texas has always historically been behind most US states to serve people with mental retardation within their own communities along with Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Illinois. 

The 1990s saw an even further decline in ‘State School’ enrollment due to deinstitutionalization and healthcare laws. Effects of deinstitutionalization became statewide. Statistics in newspapers, reports, and books showed otherwise. In 1992, Travis State School had 604 patients and 1,270 employees with a total of 86 buildings at its 436 acre property. In 1994, only 104 patients remained. They were unharmed.

In 1994, the State of Texas and City of Austin proposed a 1,000 inmate facility for a new state jail to alleviate crowding with the population in state jails. In 1996, the Travis County State Jail/Travis State Jail was built and completed. For a short while, Travis County State Jail/Travis State Jail was privately run by privatized prison industrial complex company Wackenhut Correctional Facilities from 1994 to 2001. The land where Travis County State Jail/Travis State Jail occupies is where the Farm Colony originally was for Austin State School - Farm Colony.

Due to an abuse case at Travis State School along with lawsuits such as Lelsz vs. Kavanagh and Ruiz vs. Estelle, Travis State School closed down as an agreement in a lawsuit settlement with the state of Texas and US Government in 1996. The lawsuit was both statewide and federal, thus resulting in the federal lawsuit of Lelsz vs. Kavanagh.

By 1996, Travis State School closed for good. By then all remaining 41 patients were relocated to nearby institutions such as the Austin State School (now Austin State Supported Living Center). Construction at Travis State School lasted from 1996 to 1998. Debris was left over from pervious construction teams who relocated nearly everything. Some items and various other objects were left onsite. Buildings fell into various states of decay and disrepair.

In 1996, local real estate developer Peter Barlin had bought the land Travis State School was located on from Texas Board of Control. The idea for Peter Barlin purchasing the Travis State School land and buildings was to create a private version of the public housing agency called Vision Village. His main intention was to create public housing. Vision Village was supposed to be a neighborhood for low income housing. The City of Austin gave him a $1 million dollar incentive for this land development. Organizers borrowed nearly $4 million from Austin, Travis County and a local bank in 1997.

However plans fell through when Vision Village lacked the management expertise and fund-raising ability to build the housing it promised. Local real estate developer Peter Barlin had been charged criminally with penalties such as embezzlement, conspiracy, money laundering, mismanagement, and fraud. More than $5 million had been poured into the project. Peter Barlin had owned the former Travis State School site that was once set aside for Vision Village, a project that never got off the ground despite more than $1 million from the city. The Vision Village costs had ran deeper than dollars however.


In 2004, KIPP Schools (KIPP Austin) had purchased the property from Peter Barlin and the State of Texas via TX MHMR from Texas Board of Control. Some buildings however were still abandoned. These buildings were renovated overtime. Only few buildings were demolished. The Travis State School Cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Security had not been set up to protect and secure property on a 24 hour basis yet.

Travis State School sat abandoned and vacant for a period of time from 1996 to 2004.
This made it easy for scrappers to steal and vandalize the buildings for copper metal in order to gain a profit. One famous example would be local criminal Reginald Dane Parker. Local criminal Reginald Dane Parker had apparently been stealing copper wire there from the location site before for years. The timeframe Reginald Dane Parker had been stealing copper wire from Travis State School was from 2001 to 2005. Reginald Dane Parker was arrested and jailed by law enforcement officials in 2005.

By 2011, KIPP Austin had fully settled onto the land of the former Travis State School site. However the 8 dorms that weren’t in use were boarded up and closed off. The 9 warehouses are in various states of disrepair. Austin Police Department had set up their Child Protective Services division there in the year of 2011 as well.

In 2015, KIPP Schools contracted with local business ASC Management to secure the property as an effort in security measures. Closed-Camera surveillance cameras are now present and 24 hour security is actively on sight. Gates now hover over the buildings. Unoccupied buildings that were boarded up or abandoned are now currently in use. These building have been upgraded by being renovated. Currently businesses such as KIPP Austin, Austin Discovery School, KIPP Cafe, Austin Police Department, and Child Protective Services now occupy the land property. A small handful of former warehouses are in various states of disrepair.



[Here’s why Travis State School really closed!]

[John Lelsz Sr. with his wife, Ruth Lelsz, had filed a lawsuit that claimed Texas ‘State Schools’ along with other institutions of this kind violated the constitutional rights of their residents in 1974. Abuse was rampant in these institutions. criminal negligence, Patients were living in unsanitary condition provided by extremely inadequate living conditions. The lawsuit was Lelsz vs. Kavanagh. The lawsuit was eventually settled in 1991.

Travis State School closed down due a federal lawsuit called Lelsz vs. Kavanagh. Complainant John Lelsz Sr. and his wife Ruth Lelsz alleged their son, John Lelsz Jr. was physically abused and overtly medicated. John Lelsz Jr. was housed at Travis State School and Austin State School. John Lelsz Jr. was a blind and retarded patient who was physically aggressive with others and prone to violent outbursts. As a result he was overmedicated by Travis State School and Austin State School staff and the medical faculty.

When his parents went to visit him at Travis State School and Austin State School, they notices bruises, scars, and various other lacerations on his body.John Lelsz Jr. had acquired a head gash requiring six stitches, a black eye and swollen face while at Austin State School. Austin State School staff had used cattle prods to administer electroshock therapy on John Lelsz Jr. was a very difficult patient. Both parents filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas. Such said lawsuit eventually reached Federal Court. This led to the closure of the Travis State School in 1996.

By 1998, Travis State School closed for good. By then all remaining 41 patients were relocated to nearby institutions such as the Austin State School (now Austin State Supported Living Center). By 1999, lawsuits of Lelsz vs. Kavanagh and Ruiz vs. Estelle were mostly settled with the fact most of the complainants, plaintiffs, defendants, defenders, lawyers, and attorneys, were somewhat not satisfied with the Texas Governments’ actions with some justice being unserved to the victims and those whom were harmed.

As a result of delayed justice, John Lelsz Jr. was removed from Austin State School to a psychiatric institution in Arkansas in 1997. Since then his family relocated him back to Texas. His parents have since passed away. John Lelsz Sr. passed away in June 1995.]


[As for the government properties of Austin State School and Travis State School…]

[The Travis State School Cemetery still remains onsite hidden away from KIPP Austin campus. The cemetery has fallen into disrepair. Many graves, tombstones, and other identifiers such as markers remain untouched despite the future plans from the Texas Government to remove such graves. The Texas Government decided to leave the graves untouched. The Travis State School Cemetery has fallen into disrepair.]

[Austin State School - Farm Colony had moved back to its original location at the “original” Austin State School (now Austin State Supported Living Center) in 1998. Austin State School - Farm Colony has now been reduced to a garden to a size of 4 rows as of 2016. The farm colony is a former shill of what it once was. No longer are extreme amounts of tax dollars being poured into the farm colony. As of 2016, the farm colony no longer exists.]


*Travis State School went under various names over the years such as Austin State School - Farm Colony, Austin State School - Farm Colony for the Feebleminded, Austin State School - Farm Colony for the Mentally Challenged, Travis State School for Boys, Travis State Home, Travis State School for the Mentally Gifted, Travis State School for the Mentally Challenged, Austin State School Annex, and Travis State School Annex.
*Travis State School was first named Austin State School - Farm Colony in 1933.
*Austin State School - Farm Colony was changed and renamed to Travis State School in 1961.
*Travis State School was the first state school in Texas to have a swimming pool for therapeutic purposes.
*A plant nursery operated there at Travis State School from 1933 to 1990. The school grew their own vegetables.
*Beef and pork were raised in the farm colony.
The water tower was constructed over the first graveyard in 1966. The water tower still remains standing today.

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