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Kansas City board votes to demolish Thacher School, but fight isn’t over

The original portion of Thacher School, on the northwest corner of Independence Avenue and Quincy Avenue, has stood since 1900.
The original portion of Thacher School, on the northwest corner of Independence Avenue and Quincy Avenue, has stood since 1900. The Kansas City Star

A split Kansas City school board voted Wednesday night to demolish the 115-year-old Thacher School, but the Save Thacher leaders warned that the fight is not over.

“We will file an injunction,” one of the campaign organizers, Manny Abarca, said after the 5-4 vote. “We are going to see them in court.”

The board wrestled with multiple issues and possible compromises for more than an hour. The district administration has for more than a year recommended clearing the building away to give more outdoor space and athletic fields for the neighboring Northeast Middle School.

While it is important to look back over the past 100 years of history, said Shannon Jaax, the director of the district’s building repurposing team, “you should look at the next 100 years” and what to do with the property.

“If you sell it off, you don’t get it back,” she said. “You don’t know how it will be used.”

The original portion of the school, on the northwest corner of Independence Avenue and Quincy Avenue, has stood since 1900.

It shares an eight-acre site with Northeast Middle School, which the district reopened last fall. The district went to the school board in March 2014 asking approval to demolish the school.

No developers had shown any interest in Thacher, the district reported at that time.

The school has been vacant for more than a decade and was damaged by fire in 2011. But the Save Thacher campaign said the historic building was strong enough to be restored and should be kept as part of the Northeast community.

In March, the board gave the Thacher supporters six months to secure a developer and a plan for the school.

The campaign has an interested developer, Abarca said. But the developer wanted to be offered a price for the building ahead of a design process. The district has typically only asked for the fair market value for the buildings it has offered for sale. It has received no more proposals, Jaax said.

The board discussed an offer that the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce would provide $5,000 in earnest money to give one more month for a developer to provide a proposal, but it declined to put the offer to a vote.

In other business, the school board approved supporting a proposal to bring the national youth mentoring program City Year to the district with eight corps members to start this fall.

The district would pay $10,000 annually to support each corps member who will be working with students and teachers in district schools that are struggling the most.

The district is making a four-year commitment, possibly expanding to 42 members a year at a potential total cost to the district of $1.34 million.

City Year supporters now will be going to foundations and donors to solicit the majority of the funding needed. The district’s share would be about one quarter of the cost.

City Year recruits its public-service-minded members from around the country to work full time for at least one year in communities’ neediest schools for $12,500 a year.

City Year, founded in Boston in 1988, has expanded into 25 U.S. cities.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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