The empty hallways of Olathe’s first high school will be bustling with energy once again, if a local church has its way.
By JENNIFER BHARGAVA
Special to The Star
Faith Journey Church is in negotiations with the Olathe School District to purchase the Mill Creek property in downtown Olathe.
Built in 1926, the aging high school has classroom space, a gym, and an auditorium, totaling nearly 100,000 square feet but has not been used as a high school in decades. A smaller building on the property had been used as the district’s vocational school until May. The main building has sat nearly vacant for the past year.
Faith Journey Church, currently located in the Great Mall of the Great Plains, wants to renovate the main building and, working with community organizations, offer services such as a food pantry, family counseling and sports programs, among other activities. It would also serve as the church’s new place of worship.
“It would be wonderful to not only have our own building, but be part of an actual hub with multiple services,” said Michael Downs, the senior pastor for Faith Journey Church. “It would be a landmark for Olathe. It could really help make downtown Olathe the vibrant place it should be.”
Negotiating with the school district, however, has not been easy.
At its July meeting, the district recommended that the school board deny the church’s bid. After all, the district is asking $1 million for the property; Faith Journey Church offered $650,000.
Downs pointed out, however, that in the long run the church’s offer would equal that of the district’s, because the church plans to offer the school district free rent on the property for five or more years for any programs they wish to continue at Mill Creek.
The district, however, didn’t take the bait, pointing out that current programs on the site could simply be relocated to other locations.
When it looked like the school board was going to deny Faith Journey’s offer, it decided to continue the item until its September meeting.
“There are a lot of figures involved, so the board wants time to analyze the project and all the information presented,” said John Hutchison, chief financial operations officer for the Olathe School District. “We also want to have an updated appraisal done on the property.”
The last appraisal from 2008 valued the Mill Creek Center property at $1.39 million, he said.
Faith Journey isn’t the first organization to make a bid on the historic property.
Although the property didn’t officially go on the market until six months ago, the district has received a couple bids in the past that met the asking price. Those all fell through, however.
If the board does not accept Faith Journey’s bid at its September meeting, it has a few options, Hutchison said. It could continue listing the property for sale and wait for another bidder. Or, the district could simply renovate the building itself.
“Our district is growing, so we would find a viable use for the building,” he said. “We would probably renovate portions for district programs. Mill Creek is a historical building, so we want to make sure whoever ends up with it puts it to good use.”
Several members of the community hope the property ends up in the hands of Faith Journey Church. Dozens of people have sent e-mails to the school board, expressing their support of the project, Downs pointed out.
Supporter Brad Mann runs Livin’ The Dream Inc., a Kansas City basketball organization, and he hopes to partner with the church if the Mill Creek purchase goes through.
“We believe that the vision for this property could help change the social, economic and spiritual landscape of Kansas City through the partnership of like-minded community organizations,” he said.
Another supporter, Craig Waddle, hopes to expand his Gardner-based counseling practice into Olathe if the deal goes through.
On the site, he plans to offer counseling services to the deaf and Hispanic communities, help start an outpatient addiction treatment center, and therapy for low-income residents, among other ventures.
In an e-mail to the Olathe School Board, he emphasized that the project is a much-needed resource in the heart of Olathe.
“We believe that the location lends itself to meet the needs of the community in a way that is has never been rivaled,” he wrote. “I ask that you each consider the possibilities and what this community center would mean to the students in the Olathe Schools and the families that we venture to serve.”