School district weighs restoring Berta Cabaza building

SAN BENITO — It smells old.

You know the smell old buildings get when they haven’t been lived in — for years?

That’s the way the old San Benito High School smells.

You could also say it smells of almost 90 years of history. That is how long it’s been around.

On the outside, its looks like an old building. But when you get up close, that’s when you can see what the architect was trying to convey — a Spanish Romanesque revival design with pitched roof and clipped eaves.

All of this has started a dialogue among school district leaders. They’re asking what they can do with the old San Benito High School. Can the aging building be restored?

The old building on Dick Dowling Street was built around 1930, with an auditorium built first in 1927, to serve as San Benito High School. It was renamed in the late 1970s when it became Berta Cabaza Junior High School.

The sign out front proclaims it as “Home of the Greypups.”

The two-story school was closed in the late 1990s and the main building and auditorium now sit idle. Broken windows can be seen here and there along the second story.

The main building is mostly used for storage now. The sturdy concrete buildings feature decorative arches and terrazzo flooring.

The auditorium, which has a balcony, is separate from the main building. Upon first look, this is the building in need of the most repairs.

The buildings are connected by a long portico.

Superintendent Dr. Adrian Vega recently received a call from a real estate agent inquiring about the building. The person on the other end of the line wanted to know what the school district was going to do with it. The agent also wanted to know if it was for sale.

Vega decided to bring it up for discussion to the board of trustees. If anything is done with the building, it would be up to district leaders.

“Is it even possible to bring the old building back to life?,” Vega said. “Is it worth looking into?”

The first step would be to have experts take an in-depth look at the building.

As a courtesy to the district, local architect Manuel Hinojosa recently toured the building and gave his preliminary report to the board.

“We just asked him to walk through the building with us and to see if it was structurally sound to determine, is this something worth pursuing,” Vega said.

According to what Hinojosa saw in the building during his walk-through and observation, the building is structurally sound.

“It’s held up very well,” Hinojosa said. “The auditorium is in need of some serious repair but the features are intact.”

As far as doing something with the building, Hinojosa said it is important that school leaders look at it for its value.

One of the biggest issues will be bringing the building up to code.

In order to do that, it could prove to be an extensive job for the interior and exterior.

“As a whole, I think the buildings themselves have a lot of value and are very unique and attractive,” Hinojosa said. “I hate to see a building like that be torn down. There are not many left in the Valley.”

Hinojosa suggested the board conduct a complete code analysis and baseline study to get a true evaluation of the building.

School leaders were receptive to the idea.

They are saying whether they bring it back to life or do something with it, they should have that conversation.

If school officials think about restoring the building, there are a few things they’ll have to consider.

“You can bring it up to a level of restoration, you can bring up to a level of renovation or you can retro fit it and go beyond and incorporate new elements by bringing it up to today’s time,” Hinojosa said.

For now, no decisions have been made. However, the conversation has started.