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Wednesday February 7, 2001

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Amid protest, vacant school's demolition work on hold

By The Associated Press

TUCSON - A handful of elderly women kept up a protest vigil yesterday to block demolition of a vacant Tucson barrio school.

Asbestos must be removed from tile and roofing before the old Drachman Elementary School can be demolished, but a city official said no work will be done on the building before a special City Council meeting tommorow night.

That meeting will focus on construction plans to build low-income housing on the site, not on whether to halt the demolition. The council voted Monday against reconsidering its decision to go ahead with the demolition.

The city acquired the school site in 1995 in a swap with the Tucson Unified School District. It intends to tear down part of the school building for a 62-unit housing project.

Some picketers want the school converted into a recreation center for children.

"This place is for us and for our kids," said Josephine Benitez, 80, who has lived in the barrio just south of downtown since the mid-1940s.

She said she dislikes the idea of the housing project because those who will live in it "will be people who don't belong in our neighborhood, and we won't know them."

Another of those among about 10 demonstrators, Maria Peyron, said, "What hurts me is to demolish the school and the memories of the kids." Peyron said her daughter attended the school.

Drachman was built in 1902 but much of it was destroyed by a fire in 1948. It was rebuilt and renovated, but was set afire again in 1996.