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With Plans To Expand, KIPP KC Buys Downtown Building

Students, parents, and staff members celebrate the sale of the old MCC Pioneer Campus building Friday

KIPP KC has rented space in the old Metropolitan Community College Pioneer Campus building at 18th and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City for eight years. Now, the charter middle school has bought the entire 95,000-square foot property as it embarks on a larger expansion plan. 

The school offers grades 5-8 and will add classes in kindergarten through fourth grade next year. School officials anticipate adding these grades will boost enrollment by more than 100 students, to around 380 total.

While the extra space is needed, KIPP KC's Director of Development Haley Bowman says buying the building is more about raising the school's profile in the surrounding neighborhood. 

"We have families tell us all the time, 'Oh, I had no idea there was a school at the corner of 18th and Prospect.' Being able to establish ourselves in a big way in a community we love is really exciting," said Bowman.

Currently, the school's entrance is on the building's east side, facing Benton Boulevard. Two small banners with the KIPP name signal the school is inside. But school leaders already envision a bigger KIPP banner hung on the building's south facade, looking out over the 18th and Prospect intersection. 

That, Bowman thinks, will create a "real sense of ownership" for students and families. 

"It's been our home for years in name only. Ownership is a form of power," she says. 

A $2.3 Million Bid To Buy

The school won the process to buy the building from the city with a $2.3 million bid. KIPP KC paid a 20 percent down payment financed through donations from several local foundations and individuals, along with contributions from some parents who have students at KIPP KC. 

One of those parents is Sada Hayes, whose son Semaj just finished sixth grade. She felt it was important to show her support for a school that, as she puts it, has taught her son to be more "confident and creative." 

"He's opened up in a lot more ways since he's been there. He gets more love each day. He gets what they are teaching. I just like the school." 

Bowman says KIPP will gradually take over the old MCC space. Several tenants whom the school has shared the building with over the years will remain in the fall. 

They also have plans to eventually redo KIPP KC's gym. 

For eight years, the school's gym has been a warehouse-sized room with concrete floors with no painted lines and walls with no padded mats. The room, in fact, used to be where MCC's auto shop classes were taught. 

"This is huge for us," KIPP KC Athletics Director Michael Cobbins says. "Imagine trying to coach basketball without lines on the floor." 

The facility was so poor, KIPP KC's basketball teams have never hosted true home games, Cobbins says. Instead, they've shuttled between other facilities around Kansas City. 

"For scrimmages, we get lots of people in here, lining the walls. Big-time support, and I'm like, 'Imagine this with bleachers,'" he says. 

That won't happen immediately. The school plans to renovate the gym next summer, after KIPP KC has taken over more of the building. 

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. He also reports and (sometimes) tweets. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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