Bidders for four closed KC schools ready their pitches

For several neighborhoods, Kansas City Public Schools’ effort to repurpose its closed schools is reaching an exciting, but nerve-racking, stage.

Prospective buyers for four schools will make their public pitches in a series of presentations beginning this week.

That’s good news for communities that have felt the drain of a vacant school.

But just what do the bidders have in mind?

That’s the anxious part.

“I’m soooo curious,” said Colleen Durkin, an officer with the Waldo Homes Association, which has long been troubled over deteriorating Bingham Middle School.

Bingham, at 7618 Wyandotte Ave., closed in 1998.

“Who’s presenting?” she wondered. “What do they want to put in there?”

The same mystery surrounds three other schools that also have potential buyers ready to try to win community approval.

Bryant Elementary, 319 Westover Road; Blenheim Elementary, 2411 E. 70th Terrace; and Swinney Elementary, 1106 W. 47th St., are also being sought for purchase.

“Everybody is asking the same questions,” said Shannon Jaax, who is managing the school district’s repurposing process.

But her office is keeping a lid on the proposals — not even saying how many there will be at each site — as a guard against prejudicing the process, she said.

They want each bidder to get the same chance to introduce its proposal at the public meetings, which will not be held at the school buildings.

The schedule:

• Bryant is up first with a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Country Club United Methodist Church, 400 W. 57th St.

• Bingham proposals follow at 9 a.m. Saturday at Broadway United Methodist Church, 406 W. 74th St.

• Blenheim proposals will be presented at 6:30 p.m. March 26 at Research Medical Center, Meeting Room 4, 2316 E. Meyer Blvd.

• Swinney gets its turn at 7 p.m. March 29 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1700 Westport Road.

Swinney was closed in the most recent, heavy round of closings in 2010. Blenheim and Bryant were shuttered in 2009.

Bingham’s fate, however, has been troubling its Waldo neighbors for most of the past 14 years. The school saw a brief rebirth as a charter school in 2000, but it has been relegated to a storage site for castoff district furniture since 2002.

The oft-repeated word: “eyesore.”

While residents want “something” to happen to the property, Durkin said, many are planning to go to the meeting with hopes that whatever is planned will somehow preserve the Trolley Track Trail that runs between the property and Wornall Road and not bring excessive traffic or trucks through their neighborhood streets.

All Jaax can say about the proposals is that the repurposing office’s in-house review committee has determined that the ideas are viable and the prospective buyers have the capacity to see their ideas through.

Public approval of the ideas will be an essential threshold for any of them to go forward, she said.

The committee will weigh the public feedback before deciding to enter into any negotiations for sales. The Kansas City school board ultimately decides whether a building will be sold.

In all, the district is looking to find new uses for 30 properties.

One agreement has been reached so far. Academie Lafayette charter school is expected to close a deal for Longan Elementary School, which the charter is already leasing.

Two properties, which Jaax said can’t be named, are in stages of negotiations.

Three — Graceland, Pinkerton and Askew — are expected to go to a public presentation stage soon.

Several schools are being peddled by the district’s brokerage firm, Block Real Estate Services.

Meanwhile, the repurposing office’s technical and community advisory teams, through a series of public meetings over the past year, are continuing to develop an overall reuse strategy that is expected to be completed next month.