Tension over the possible sale of Westport High School is mounting as a 31/2-year enterprise to repurpose vacant Kansas City schools rides an emotional peak.
Between proposals for Westport and negotiations to make Southwest Early College Campus a charter high school, the district is dealing in its grandest properties.
So a lot is at stake as high-profile developers Foutch Brothers and Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners jockey amid intense neighborhood interests.
“We have not done anything wrong or changed our plans,” said Steve Foutch, whose pitch to buy Westport High originally earned the district’s recommendation. “There is absolutely no reason why (Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners) should be given another chance to work on this project.”
The situation became complicated, however, when the district entered into negotiations to hand Southwest over to the charter Academie Lafayette. If plans under discussion are approved, Academie Lafayette would run a high school for both charter and district students.
Academie Lafayette previously had signed a letter of intent to partner with Foutch and open a high school at Westport, 315 E. 39th St.
Now Sustainable Development Partners — which bought Westport Middle School across the street — wants new consideration as a potential buyer of Westport High.
Some neighborhood association leaders are also arguing that the district should let both developers show plans again.
“The district wanted public input,” said E.F. “Chip” Walsh, the managing member of Sustainable Development Partners. “We understand from the neighborhoods that they feel this decision will have a long-lasting impact and they would like to be able to evaluate another proposal.”
The board will be briefed on the process in closed session Wednesday.
“We are examining our options,” Kansas City school board President Jon Hile said. “We want to be sure we are adhering to the process.”
The board needs to determine whether it can reach a consensus on how to proceed, he said.
The district likely has four options. It could:
Continue with its recommendation to sell to Foutch Brothers.
Allow Sustainable Partners to re-enter the process. The district would take two sets of proposals back to the community.
Completely reopen the process for new proposals from other developers as well as Foutch and Sustainable Partners.
Pull Westport off the block and hold its last vacant high school in reserve — a particularly frustrating possibility to Foutch, which has invested more than $300,000 in the process, Foutch said.
The administration took the recommended sale of Westport High to the board for a vote at the end of March and started a public storm.
At that time, public perception was that the sale to Foutch was also likely to bring along the popular Academie Lafayette as a school component within a diverse development plan that included residences, commercial uses and community access to sports and entertainment facilities at the school.
Unknown at the time, however — and, Foutch said, unknown to him — Academie Lafayette and the district were exploring a possible partnership at Southwest, 6512 Wornall Road.
Some board members balked at selling Westport and voted it down.
Community members, including Academie Lafayette families who had wanted the school inside Westport, reacted strongly, urging board members who had voted no to reconsider.
But the district and the charter school in June announced their proposed partnership at Southwest. Discussions on Westport were put on hold.
All along, Foutch has stated — and the district administration concurred — that the sale of Westport was not contingent on Academie Lafayette being a partner.
“While we waited for the school district to interview and negotiate” with Academie Lafayette, Foutch said, “they were courted away from us.”
Many community members are making it known, however, that the possibility of the charter school was a significant factor in their original support of the Foutch plan.
When Foutch and the district on Aug. 14 presented an updated proposal for Westport, many at the meeting also wanted to see a new proposal from Sustainable Partners.
“We want them back in the picture,” said Greg Corwin, president of the Southmoreland Neighborhood Association. The district is saying that the proposal essentially has not changed, Corwin said, “but that’s obviously not the case.”
The loss of Academie Lafayette is significant, said Shannon Jaax, who is managing the repurposing process for the district. That is why the district had Foutch present its plan to the public again.
But the original proposal from Foutch did not specify Academie Lafayette as a partner, and the district’s original recommendation to sell to Foutch was not contingent on the charter school’s participation, Jaax said.
The neighborhood groups aren’t taking positions for or against either developer’s plans, said Gene Morgan of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. “As a neighborhood, we’re still trying to figure out what’s best for everybody, the school district included.”
The district originally sought proposals to sell both Westport Middle and Westport High as a package. But as Foutch and Sustainable Partners emerged as the most viable proposals, the administration instead recommended selling the properties separately.
The sale of Westport Middle to Sustainable Partners was completed in January. Sustainable Partners’ plan blends nonprofit uses around healthy living and urban farming as well as educational programs.
The district has compiled the feedback from community meetings on the proposal with Academie Lafayette and is working with the charter school on a revised proposal for Southwest that would be presented to their boards and the public for review perhaps by the end of the month, Hile said.
If the board can agree on its approach, he said, the possible future of Westport could become a little clearer before the month is out.