Land has been purchased in eastern Jackson County that could clear the way for the merger of two Catholic high schools.
The tract in Lee’s Summit could be the spot for a $30 million facility that would replace St. Mary’s High School in Independence and Archbishop O’Hara High School in southeast Kansas City.
The 80 acres could be home to a yet-unnamed school that could hold 600 students and possibly open in the fall of 2015, a Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph official confirmed in an interview Saturday.
That site is near Lee’s Summit Road and Strother Road, south of Lee’s Summit Municipal Airport near the Kansas City border.
A decision hasn’t been made to build a new school and close St. Mary’s and O’Hara. But the diocese’s director of strategic planning, Steve Hilliard, said the availability of a sizable piece of land at a bargain price made the purchase worthwhile. The land sale was closed in late December, he said.
“You don’t see 80-acre tracts come available that often,” he said.
The diocese purchased about 54 acres for $2.6 million and was given a contiguous piece of property as a donation from the same seller. It worked out to about 75 cents per square foot, half the cost for other available pieces of land in the area, Hilliard said.
The diocese has hired a consulting firm to study the feasibility of raising money to build the new school.
“We have made an investment in our young people for their future,” Hilliard wrote in announcing the land purchase on the diocese’s online “Insider Letter.”
“Obviously the acquisition of land is no small commitment but it is a visible step. The next steps in planning for a new diocesan high school, however, will take some time.”
A study conducted for the diocese in 2010 recommended placing a new high school with easy access to Interstate 470, Missouri 291 and Missouri 350.
In 2004, the diocese bought land near Interstate 70 and Missouri 291 to relocate St. Mary’s High School. Hilliard said that land will now be sold or put to some other use.
O’Hara’s current enrollment is about 360 students, and roughly 120 attend St. Mary’s. Hilliard said the opening enrollment of the combined high school might start at 550 because new schools tend to draw more students.