One of the Olathe School District’s most historic buildings is well on its way to a major makeover.
The Millcreek Learning Center , located at the corner of Loula and Water streets in downtown Olathe, is undergoing a $16 million renovation that will feature an atrium and new entrance.
The center will be used by the district for a multitude of programs.
The building served as John P. St. John Memorial High School when it was built in 1926. It then became Olathe Junior High School which was later renamed Millbrooke Junior High School. After that, it was turned into the Johnson County Vocational School. An annex was added in 1962.
Most recently, the building had been home to some of the school district’s alternative education programs. The programs have been relocated while the renovations take place.
Money for the massive project comes from bond issues passed by voters in 2013 and 2016.
Demolition on the interior of the building is nearing completion.
The renovations are expected to be finished by December 2017. A decision will be made at a later date on whether to move programs into the building in the middle of the year, or wait until the following school year.
John Hutchison is the chief financial and operations officer for Olathe Public Schools. He said the district opted to renovate the existing building rather than tear it down, because remodeling was less expensive than new construction.
“When you really do a full gut, renovation becomes more economical,” Hutchison said. “We are preserving exteriors but the interior will be a fully modern building.”
The property is actually made up of three buildings: an annex, what was the old John P. St. John Memorial High School, and a gymnasium. Because the floors don’t align in the buildings, the challenge has been to find a way to allow for flow between the buildings.
A new addition and the atrium will be constructed to allow access to all of the buildings. In the past, visitors had to enter through the auditorium in order to access one of the buildings on the property.
Once renovated, the annex will be used as an office for the community development department and the Olathe Public Schools Foundation.
The district’s alternative education programs, which will be serving between 300 to 350 students, are located in the old high school section.
An auditorium in the old high school part of the building will be used for conferences and professional development training.
The third building, the gymnasium, supports all of the student-based programs. It’s in need of heating and cooling upgrades.
Hutchison said the district is seeing growth in its alternative education programs. The district’s SOAR program, which offer students a flexible path to earning their high school diploma, will move into the Millcreek Center once renovations are complete. It is currently based at the district’s Prairie Learning Center.
The improvements to the Millcreek Center will allow programs to come together under one roof.
“It becomes really efficient for staffing,” Hutchison said. “We can overlap the programs and then they are on the same site and you get some efficiency in being all in one place.”
As part of the remodel, the entrance of the building will be relocated. What used to be the back of the building will now become the front.
Because the building has been a fixture in downtown Olathe for so many years, there is a desire to preserve history whenever possible. As district officials prepared the building for the renovation, they discovered little pieces of that history like old pencil sharpeners and clocks everywhere they looked.
Hutchison said he’s hopeful that even though the interior of the building will look brand new, they can incorporate some of the building’s past as well.
“There are a few little artifacts that we will try to put on display,” Hutchison said. “Whether that’s through information on the wall or a piece of history on display, we will try to create a timeline.”