Community, school district weigh proposals for Westport Schools

Are the two plans for repurposing Westport High and Middle Schools financially sound?

Would it be better if the two large sites remained schools, in case the school district someday needs them again?

Would the community prefer what some have termed a filet mignon approach or a beef stew approach?

These are some of the questions asked after two development teams presented updated plans for reuse of the closed Kansas City schools.

Saturday, two developers added details to their previous presentations. One would reuse the schools as a mixture of housing and youth athletic programs; the other suggests a mixture of three schools, nonprofit centers, community gardens and housing.

KC Sustainable Development Partners has been negotiating with three separate educational entities that could lead to a pre-K through grade 5, a middle school, and a high school locating in Westport High School. Sustainable Development Partners also propose a Center for Community Vitality to house local nonprofits involved in health, wellness, energy and gardening. Their plan includes 85 housing units.

The second developer, Foutch Brothers, proposes  market-rate housing, community athletic fields, fitness centers and a community pool. Steve Foutch says his group wants to create 155 apartment units ranging from studio to three-bedroom in the schools. They would surround a fitness center open to the community. A key feature of Foutch’s proposal is the reuse of the schools’ athletic fields for youth sports.

The school district has asked the development teams for information about their financing strategies. The two projects would rely on a mixture of developer capital, historic tax credits and New Market Tax Credits. The district has said the sites will not be asking for tax abatement.

As the district looks at the financials, community discussion over the reuse of the buildings continues. Some favor the Sustainable Development Partners plan because it maintains the use of Westport High School at least partially as a school.

“The best possible use of a school is a school,” Southmoreland neighborhood President Greg Corwin said Saturday.

Councilman Jim Glover said at the meeting that the school component could attract more people to live in surrounding areas, adding economic vitality to the urban core by attracting people to buy homes.

“It would build more of a market for people wanting to move to Midtown by building a school,” he said.

Others, however, expressed concerns about how quickly the projects could be completed. One participant in Saturday’s discussion said, “the second (Foutch Brothers) proposal is more realized and ready. The first (Sustainable Development Partners) is like fillet mignon. The second is like a stew of meat and potatoes. I think meat and potatoes is the way to go.”

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