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School Slated For Demolition In The Historic Northeast Gets Community Support

Elle Moxley

A rusted metal "No Trespassing" sign hangs on a post outside the boarded-up Thacher School in the Historic Northeast in Kansas City, Mo.

On the other side of the tall fence, the grass is neatly trimmed and the empty parking lot is litter-free. The brick exterior, once a popular canvas for graffiti artists, has been scrubbed mostly clean. A single blue doodle is the only evidence of vandalism neighbors say was once common at the vacant school.

Kansas City Public Schools is spending about $42,000 a year on upkeep at Thacher, one of the many buildings closed in 2009 as part of the right-sizing plan. Unable to find a buyer for the 115-year-old school, the district  wants to demolish the building to make room for more parking and playing fields at nearby Northeast Middle School.

But local community members don't want to see the building torn down.

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
The district says demolishing Thacher will give Northeast Middle School more room for parking and playing fields.

"Our neighborhood isn't 'old' Northeast, it's Historic Northeast," says Indian Mound Neighborhood Association President Bryan Stalder. "In order to show people that we care about our historic structures, I think this is really symbolic. It's sitting right here on Independence Avenue."

Thanks to the efforts of Stalder and other members of the Save Thacher Committee, the building received a temporary reprieve in March. The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors agreed to a six-month moratorium on a vote on a $243,000 demolition contract. 

Longtime resident DorriPartain says this isn't the first time Thacher's fate has been uncertain. She remembers rallying around the school in the 1990s, the last time the district debated closing the school.

"We realize they are trying to do the best thing for the students, but on the other hand, if you're tearing down historic buildings, what is that teaching our students?" she says.

Partain says the school has a lot of local history – it's named for a Civil War general who's buried nearby – and tearing it down would send the wrong message to kids. She'd like to see more young people involved in efforts to save the school.

Credit Missouri Valley Special Collections / Kansas City Public Library / Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Public Library / Kansas City, Mo.
A file photo shows what Thacher looked like when it first opened in the early 1900s.

That's why the Save Thacher Committee is planning a "Thacher-a-thon" rally for 9 a.m. Saturday. They're encouraging community members to bring their kids and pets to the site for a long walk around the building's perimeter.  They're hoping the sight of neighbors dressed in the old school's purple and gold colors picking up trash and taking an interest in the property might attract the attention of a developer.

So far, no one's interested in the building – and neighbors charge that the district didn't do a very good of securing the site when Thacher first closed.

The second floor windows weren't boarded up, and a fire three years ago seriously damaged a 1910 addition on the back of the building. Photos of the damage the district has released look pretty bleak, though an architect brought in by the Save Thacher Committee thinks the entire structure is salvageable.

Stalder says the district has done a better job in recent months of keeping up the property. Still, he's worried the district will go ahead with the demolition because it wants the space to expand Northeast Middle School.

"We'd hate for them to tear down a 115-year-old building because it's convenient now and later realize there might have been a better use for this particular piece of property," he says.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost with KCUR.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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