By LESLIE COLLINS
February 5, 2014
For now, the former Thacher Elementary School is still standing, and that’s how Historic Northeast residents want it to remain.
Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), however, has other plans. If the grassroots group “Save Thacher, Save our Schools” doesn’t find a viable plan and developer for the former elementary school by Feb. 26, the district will most likely demolish the 116-year-old building this summer. KCPS officials have said the vacant and fire damaged school would pose a safety risk to incoming middle school students at Northeast Middle School which shares an 8-acre parcel with Thacher.
“I have an appreciation of our turn of the century architecture and hope to see more of it restored rather than destroyed,” said Northeast resident and grassroots group member Kathy Drews. “There are many old timers who attended Thacher school and think of it as part of their heritage.”
“I think any building that’s still standing has the potential to be saved,” said Kent Dicus, Northeast resident and president of the Northeast Kansas City Historical Society (NEKCHS). “It’s an original structure to Independence Avenue and really has some irreplaceable architecture. I don’t think Independence Avenue needs another green space along there. I realize it would be part of the middle school, but it’s still a gap in an otherwise very noted street in Kansas City and a very well traveled one. I think it’s more interesting to see a beautiful building that’s 116 years old rather than a green space.”
Members of Save Thacher, Save our Schools and other area residents met Jan. 31 at the North-East Public Library to discuss their plan of action and the narrowed down list of viable options. Bryan Stalder, president of the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association, said the district has already vetoed the idea of residential living on the site.
Other discussed options included creating a central location for office space and community non-profits, like the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, NEKCHS and others; creating a community marketplace similar to the one at the former Ivywild school in Colorado Springs, Colo.; a charter school; arts incubator/shared studio space; public works containment/storage; and an amphitheater.
Kansas City City Council member Jim Glover encouraged the group to not rule out opening a charter school inside the building.
“The abandonment of these schools was due mostly, in my opinion, to challenges managing the Kansas City school district,” Glover said. “Having a school district run by a federal court and interference by the federal court for at least three decades was very difficult… I do not believe vacant schools are a result of demographics. Not only are there enough kids in the surrounding area to fill it (Thacher), but the demographics will change pretty quickly because the real estate community will send out the news you’ve got a school and people will buy houses.”
In addition, the city is pushing to add a streetcar line along Independence Avenue, which could be an additional marketing tool for the building, he said.
The group has already contacted a number of organizations and community leaders, including Sen. Kiki Curls’ office, City Council members, KCPS Board of Education members, the Greater Kansas City Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), H&R Block, the Hall Family Foundation, Kansas City, Missouri Community Development (KCMO CDE), among others. The group is also soliciting letters of support and has created flyers and informational packets to send to potential developers and key contacts. Sen. Curls’ office told Stalder that if the group finds a developer, Curls will “go to bat for us and they’re going to help us as much as they can.”
Several school board members expressed a willingness to halt demolition if the grassroots group finds someone to tear down the 1914 fire damaged addition, Stalder said.
Dicus said he contacted the executive director of the Historic Kansas City Foundation, who said she will put out a plea for Thacher in their upcoming newsletter. The foundation has an extensive network of residents and businesses, Dicus said, and was instrumental in saving a building from demolition on the Country Club Plaza.
“Knowing that time is ticking, it’s just so hard,” Dicus said. “It’s not one faceted. It’s a stabilization process, it’s an acquiring process; then, there has to be a plan for its future. It has to make some money or have some type of funding source to exist.”
Shannon Jaax, director of the KCPS Repurposing Initiative, said the district will not donate the building and will not appraise the building unless a viable project is proposed during the Feb. 26 Board of Education meeting. Sharing a site with a middle school will also limit options, she said.
To gain additional attention and promote saving Thacher, Save Thacher, Save Our Schools will host a rally at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the school, 5008 Independence Ave., Kansas City, Mo. Attendees are encouraged to hold signs.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can,” Stalder said.
To find out how you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook page “Save Thacher, Save Our Schools.” Thacher supporters are also encouraged to attend the Feb. 26 Board of Education meeting, where the board will make a decision regarding Thacher. Meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district offices, 1211 McGee St., Kansas City, Mo.