Crossroads Academy in downtown Kansas City wants to expand

02/11/2014 5:59 PM

02/11/2014 7:43 PM

Less than two years after opening, the Crossroads Academy is pursuing a $7 million expansion plan that would double the size of the charter school that’s become an energizing presence downtown in its short history.

The Kansas City Tax Increment Financing Commission is being asked Wednesday to support a request for $5.5 million in TIF assistance to help the school at 1015 Central St. purchase and renovate the Uhlmann Building next door at 1009 Central. If successful, the fast-growing school hopes to have 270 students enrolled a year from now.

“The school is going great, but we’re packed to the gills,” Dean Johnson, executive director of Crossroads Academy, said Tuesday.

Johnson and his co-founder, Tysie McDowell-Ray, the principal of Crossroads Academy, found out quickly last year the long-perceived demand for a school catering to people working and living downtown was real. It opened with 170 kindergartners through fifth-graders in fall 2012 and now has 230 students. Its charter allows up to 370 pupils.

“We have a long waiting list,” Johnson said. “The demand is there.”

The school would like to locate its middle-school students, fifth through eighth grade, in the two-level Uhlmann Building, which was built in 1915. The 28,000-square-foot building is currently occupied by the Uhlmann Co., which manufactures and markets flour and grain products.

The building is listed for sale for $1.6 million. Uhlmann Co. officials were not available for comment Tuesday.

During its short life, the Crossroads Academy has infused new energy in a quiet corner of the central business district, with its young students using Barney Allis Plaza as their playground and stopping at the nearby Kansas City Public Library at 14 W. 10th St. for additional learning opportunities.

In a letter supporting the school’s request for TIF assistance, R. Crosby Kemper III, director of the library, said students walk to the Central Library at least once per week to participate in special programming, check out books and study with librarians.

“The students bring vitality to the library,” Kemper said. “I strongly support Crossroads Academy’s request for $5.5 million (TIF) allocation … to purchase and renovate the buildings necessary to accommodate its planned growth up to 370 students.”

The tax increment financing assistance would come from the 11th Street TIF Corridor Plan established in 1992 to help fund improvements on the west side of downtown between Ninth and 12th streets.

Johnson said the $7 million project calls for not only purchasing and renovating the Uhlmann Building, but allowing the school to purchase its existing classroom building at 1015 Central. The school is currently leasing the building for a monthly rent of $1 from DST Realty.

The redevelopment plan calls for half of the main floor of the Uhlmann Building to be renovated by this fall to accommodate middle schoolers, with the second half to be renovated later. The unfinished basement level of the building would be used for science labs and other programs.

Crossroads Academy was helped in its original search by J. Philip Kirk Jr., the retired chairman of DST Realty who recently was honored as Kansas Citian of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Kirk also is assisting the school with its expansion plan.

The Crossroads Academy request also has the support of the Downtown Council, which has long championed the need for educational opportunities for downtown parents.

“The Downtown Council is 100 percent behind the Crossroads Academy and its expansion,” said Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development for the council. “It’s been a wonderful addition to downtown in attracting kids and families, and we want to see it succeed and grow.”

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