Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 News
The drought is doing major damage to the foundation at the Como Community Center in Fort Worth. While unsightly, the city said the building is still safe.
The drought is ripping apart the heart of one Fort Worth community at the seams.
The Como Community Center appears to be literally tearing apart in spots. The restrooms in the 60-year-old building have large cracks where the walls meet, the floor in a hallway has a visible dip and the walls in the gym have some obvious cracks when you look closely.
More than 120 children spend their afternoons after school at the center, but engineers and city staff spend just as much time there to make sure it's structurally sound.
The noticeable damage is caused by the weather and how the building was constructed in the first place.
According to the city, the center's slab was poured separately of the outward foundation, and clay is beneath that slab. The clay tends to expand and contract with the weather, and is affecting the walls and floors of the center because of the drought.
"There is obviously some expansive clay under that slab and moves up and down depending on what the weather is," city spokesman Jason Lamers said. "As everybody in North Texas knows, everybody's houses are moving. We have over 300 buildings in the city of Fort Worth, and a lot of those buildings are moving as well."
The damage at the center recently caught the eye of District 7 City Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who brought up the issue during the precouncil meeting Tuesday morning.
"It doesn't look good to me," he said when asking city staff to take a look. "There are large fissures in the floor, cracks in the walls. It's not a good situation."
But the city building department and its engineers say the building is perfectly safe or they wouldn't let anyone inside.
"It's unsightly, it's inconvenient, but it's safe," Lamers said.
At this point, there isn't much the city can do, short of constructing a new building, which won't happen for some time.
"We've got old buildings in the city; we can't replace all of them," Lamers said. "We'd love to replace all of them, but we can't. The economic times just don't allow that."
However, the council moved a penny of property taxes to help fund future capital improvement bond projects in the city budget that was approved just this week. Projects could include a new community center one day.
City staff will meet with Shingleton next week to discuss the Como Community Center's status in depth.
In the meantime, the city wants to make it clear the building is safe. Lamers said the building will be closed If and when it becomes unsafe, but that isn't expected anytime soon.