Details on Westport schools reuse: A private school and an urban gardening center

After hearing three proposals for the reuse of Westport High and Middle Schools, KCMO School Repurposing Director Shannon Jaax asked community members what feedback they had for the district about the concepts they had just heard.

While one developer proposes turning Westport High and Middle Schools into market-rate housing, another proposal centers on a mix of a private school, an institute for community nonprofits, live/work housing space and an urban garden and orchards, among numerous other elements. As the KC Midtown Post reported Saturday, the Kansas City School District has put 30 surplus schools on the market and is asking the community to help determine their future uses. Today, we detail the second proposal that residents at the Saturday meeting agreed would be a good fit for the community.

The second proposal comes from KC Sustainable Development Partners, which includes Bob Berkebile, David Brain, Michael W. Knight, Butch Rigby, Louis D. Steele and E.F. Chip Walsh.

Proposal in a nutshell: Westport High School redevelopment would be centered around a new pilot private school. The middle school would house local nonprofits, some of whom have already agreed to move or are considering the relocation. The developers also have an agreement with Cultivate KC to build an urban agricultural center on the middle school site, including community gardens and orchards and space for conducting training in urban agriculture.

 Details: This complex proposal includes a number of different ideas the developers say would set a new benchmark for community, healthy living and creativity.  Based upon previous input from the neighborhoods around the schools, Bob Berkebile said Saturday his group is in various stages of talks with different partners who might occupy the redeveloped buildings. While he said he cannot share all of the details, here are a few that he revealed.

  • A new pilot school. The idea for the school is to create a model for how urban schools can be successful. Berkebile said the group is in discussions with urban education experts about the right opportunity, and is exploring a wide variety of options. The school would be open to children from surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Cultivate Kansas City site: Cultivate Kansas City  is a non-profit that helps people grow and eat good food in city neighborhoods. It has a production farm in Kansas City, Kansas, sends produce to local farmers’ markets, and trains refugees to enter the farming business. But Executive Director Katherine Kelly says the program is “expanding like crazy” and needs an educational space and community interaction site. Cultivate Kansas City proposes to create a production farm, community greenhouse, community gardens and orchards on the site. They anticipate helping the surrounding neighborhoods get involved in urban gardening as well.
  • A Westport Culinary Institute. The institute would demonstrate how food grown on the site could be prepared in a healthy way.
  • A health and sports center.
  • A business center and incubator.
  • An eco-concierge service. The idea would be to connect residents to resources such as rentable Zipcars  and tools that can be borrowed instead of purchased.
  • Live/work housing spaces. The plan calls for about 60 market-rate apartments in the middle school and possibly 40 in the high school. Because of the potential for Zipcars and the easy access to public transportation, residents would not need cars.
  • A fullcycle center. The developers want the two sites to generate no waste. For instance, they propose to treat sewage onsite and turn it back into usable water.
  • A community auditorium, forum space and/or theater.
  • A botanical garden and community center.
  • Heartland Wellness Center. A space for yoga and other activities.
  • Media Center. The schools already contain a recording studio, which might be made available so that community members could record and share their stories.
  • Center for Creative Expression. Berkebile spoke about having shared space where people could work on creative projects.

 How it fits neighborhood needs as expressed by the community: “We’re talking about building a community where people live in a much smaller personal space than they do now,” said  Berkebile. In return, the repurposed schools would offer more common space, including a rooftop garden. He said the project would spur economic growth in an area that is already a center of education and a hub of transportation systems.

Developer history: Five of the six members of the development group live and work in Kansas City. KC Sustainable Development is working on the repurposing of two other Kansas City schools, Blenheim Elementary and Swinney Elementary. Berkebile admits they have no experience with exactly this type of project because it has never been done before, but he says they have experience with each of the individual pieces. The Delmark Group would help with development. “This project has more synergy and more interest than any project we have ever touched,” Berkebile said.

Cost: $78 million with some tax credits.

 What do you think of this proposal for the reuse of the Westport Schools?

Related posts:

Westport school reuse proposals narrowed to two

Details on Westport schools reuse: Market rate housing proposal

Another chance to get involved in school repurposing at Westport High, Middle Schools