By LESLIE COLLINS
January 15, 2014
Momentum is growing to save the former Thacher Elementary, but time is not on Northeast’s side.
Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) wants to demolish the 116-year-old structure to create a multipurpose field for students and preserve the safety of middle school students, who will be attending the newly renovated Northeast Middle School this fall. In December, the KCPS Board of Education tabled a demolition contract to give Northeast residents two months to devise a viable re-use plan for the former school. Residents must present that plan during the Feb. 26 board of education meeting.
On Jan. 8 a group of 9 Historic Northeast residents met at Bryan Stalder’s home to discuss re-use options for Thacher and potential funding sources. To sell the building, KCPS must receive fair market value. However, KCPS never appraised Thacher separately from Northeast Middle School which shares an 8-acre site with Thacher. When Thacher and Northeast Middle were marketed together, the appraised value totaled $1 million.
Stalder, interim president and secretary of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association, said he’s requesting additional information from the school district.
“We need to have a better idea of how much they would sell Thacher for before everybody can pursue developers,” Stalder said. “We’re hoping we can convince the school board to take the $200,000 they’ve already set aside for demolition and use that to tear down the (fire damaged) 1914 addition and then mothball the building effectively, whether that means brick and mortar on all the first-level entrances or making the plywood more durable and secure.”
For the boarded up windows, Stalder suggested the district could make the building more attractive by launching a “window dressing” project like Northeast Arts did for several buildings in Northeast. Students in the district could paint artistic designs on the plywood which would then be installed on the windows and doors, he said.
Several of the future use options proposed by the group included an arts and incubator space for area businesses and non-profits, complete with community meeting rooms. Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce President Bobbi Baker-Hughes said she could envision offices for the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District, the Northeast Chamber of Commerce, the Northeast Kansas City Historic Society, city codes inspectors, CAN officers and more.
“It would make a great community space and bring some of our 501(c)3 organizations in there to help contribute to the cost of maintaining the building and operating the building,” Baker-Hughes said.
Northeast resident Kathy Drews, who attended the Jan. 8 meeting, said the group also discussed how the building could house a fitness center, art gallery and restaurants.
The building could also host short-term office leasing, Stalder said. Other proposals included affordable or senior housing and salvaging architectural elements from the 1914 addition to create a pocket park. Drews said the building could also host positive activities for youth and could be used to “build character in the people who are our hope for the future.”
“This valuable piece of history can also be a significant piece of our future,” she said.
Stalder stressed that Thacher is integral to Northeast’s landscape and history.
“If we keep tearing down all of the historic structures in Historic Northeast, we can’t call ourselves Historic Northeast anymore,” Stalder said. “This is an identity factor in our neighborhood. It’s important to us.”
Baker-Hughes voiced a similar sentiment, saying, “It’s important to save one of the last historic buildings on Independence Avenue. When you really start to look at Independence Avenue in its current form, you start to question the validity of we’re a historic area. We have more and more eclectic architecture than we do historic architecture. It would be a shame to lose yet another (historic) one.”
During the meeting, the small group created a list of potential contacts and developers to reach out to, and Stalder has written a letter on behalf of Northeast residents to city council members, the city manager and the mayor, urging the city to provide assistance in saving Thacher.
“We’re fighting an uphill battle, and time is not on our side,” Stalder said.
Baker-Hughes said the group should present a multi-faceted plan to the school board, complete with immediate options and several future options. Two months is not enough time, however, to create a solid business plan, she said. Baker-Hughes hopes the school district will sell the building and allow the community to mothball the site until a sustainable plan and developer are found.
“Resident support is the most important thing that everyone in this community can do,” Baker-Hughes said. “If everyone in this community that ever said a kind word about Thacher were to attend the board meeting, I think that makes a statement, and that may be what it takes (to change the school board’s mind). We may need to pack the room. We need to assure the board that there’s enough community desire to keep that building. If it’s 90 people that can write a letter, if it’s 20 people that can call the school board, whatever their piece of the puzzle is, the completed puzzle is keeping Thacher standing in our community.”