Archive for Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Linenberger: Repurposing former Tonganoxie Elementary School worth a look

October 21, 2015

A building that in some capacity has stood for a century was full of life for years.

Now it stands there alone and deserted, its fate to be decided in the coming months.

Residents again will celebrate the bustling, beautiful and active new Tonganoxie Elementary School on South East Street with events Saturday. The new TES opened its doors in August to rave reviews.

Across town, the former TES, a longtime anchor in the downtown district, now could be sunk.

Tonganoxie USD 464 has set a schedule for the former building. Bidders can look at the property in the coming months and then make an offer in the new year.

The board then hopes, as of now, to select a winning bid at its February meeting.

There have been repurposing efforts in the last year, namely a group that would transform much of the school into a senior citizen community. Demand is high in Tonganoxie for such housing, which made the plan seemed quite viable.

But tax credits from the state that the company hoped would come through didn’t and the plan fizzled. Even with that potential agreement, the development group wanted most of the building, but not the north gymnasium and a handful of classrooms. The Tonganoxie Recreation Commission had interest in partnering, but again, it just couldn’t come to fruition.

There likely is a common sentiment with the building.

Who the heck would buy it and what could they put there?

That’s where you come in.

Share information about the property through social media. Spread the word to a person or group you might think could have some use for it.

If it seems insurmountable for one buyer to put up a bid, how about reaching out to a group of investors?

Maybe a cooperative of folks with various ideas could take on the repurposing of a prime spot in Tonganoxie.

Sure, there are challenges, including zoning regulations or other obstacles that could limit what type of business or service could repurpose that block.

And as mentioned before, the building has been around for several years. Renovations most certainly would be needed.

But think about what other cities have done.

Smolan, a tiny town near Salina, transformed its old two-story school into a large buffet and dining hall downstairs and offices upstairs. The restaurant component was a weekend destination for years.

Clay Center transformed a former school into apartments.

There are plenty of area community colleges that have satellite centers. Could Tonganoxie be a new extension of Highland, Kansas City Kansas or Johnson County community colleges, or even University of Saint Mary?

Would the block be suitable for another park? Tonganoxie is becoming known for its array of parks and quality walking trails that connectivity to the city.

All of the ideas might not hold much water, but they’re worth discussing.

Tonganoxie USD 464 board members have said they can’t hold on to the land forever. It’s a valid point considering the expenses that go along with keeping the property.

And after all ideas have been proposed and feelers sent out, the property might eventually just turn into a vacant lot.

Whatever the future holds, let’s hope it is something that can help breath some more life into a downtown that continues to gain more businesses.

The old school’s next chapter might just be a great one.

— Shawn F. Linenberger is the news editor for The Mirror. He can be reached at slinenberger@theworldco.info

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