No School Left Behind

No School Left Behind

Right-sizing has helped make the Francis Willard School available for repurposing.
Courtesy Kansas City Missouri School District

When the Kansas City Missouri School District (KCMSD) closed 26 schools last year to "right-size" its surplus of facilities with attendance, it was seen as just another casualty of the Great Recession. Yet when the KCMSD Board created the Director of the Repurposing Initiatives position last January, this radical policy shift became a massive economic and community development opportunity. Shannon Jaax, the KCMSD Repurposer, explained, "This will be a give and take communitywide effort to ensure this is a success."

In addition to the schools shuttered in 2010, the repurposing plan includes a round of closings in 2009 after years of deterioration when $2 billion in desegregation money ordered by a federal judge in 1985 ran dry in 1997. The unprecedented program was unable to increase achievement and lure students away from private schools and surrounding suburban public school districts. In total, 39 school facilities are soliciting development proposals.

Bingham Junior High School in Waldo

Before the position was filled, three facilities had already been repurposed; two to local non-profits that provide services to KCMSD students, and one as a professional development center for district administrators and teachers. The 39 potential redevelopment sites include schools ranging from Romanesque revival and Spanish colonial to modern design.

Quickly after being hired, Jaax issued a Request for Qualifications seeking a market study, building assessment, public engagement and outreach consulting, website development, and design services. Before public meetings begin in July, she hopes to have the market study, building assessment, and a facilities master plan completed. The master plan will identify sites to be retained for future use and expansion by the district, surplus sites, and those facilities left for repurposing.

The KCMSD Board at its March 9 meeting agreed to consider the sale of properties, a departure from its original policy that left some older facilities in squalor for decades. Regarding the change in policy, Jaax said, "Where we identify surplus sites, the Board will entertain proposals for purchase".

Milton Moore Middle School in Palestine East

Starting in the Spring, the Repurposer will begin site tours of all the facilities before a series of public meetings to generate interest and collect community input. A Call for Ideas was launched on March 8 as a way to engage the public and provide a forum for innovative reuses on an ongoing basis.

Said Jaax, "It is important to understand that these closed facilities include large tracts of land, not just school buildings." As such, a meeting with local government agencies is planned in August to discuss possible transfers.

The Repurposer will have a final proposal for the KCMSD Board by the end of 2011, at which time the Board will begin the work of site disposition.