Developers moving forward with mixed-use renovation plan for old Westport High

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The old Westport High is getting closer to having a new use.

Developers got a key approval from the city in December of the PIEA General Development Plan and hope to get the final go ahead to start turning it into apartments and office space this spring.

Many doors and windows to the building have been boarded up or reinforced to try to keep animals and vandals out. But on Tuesday, FOX4 got an exclusive look inside the school that’s been closed since 2010. Check out the video player above to take a tour.

“So this is the gymnasium. It was originally the boy’s gym when it was built in1908,” said Andrew Brain, principal at the Brain Group. 

It’s a historic building full of memories. Brain got to hear some of those stories when he took Westport High’s Class of ’66 through the building for their 50th reunion. 

“They were talking about how the teacher stopped class because it was Nov 22, 1963, when JFK was assassinated and told the class. This building has seen an incredible amount of history,” Brain said.

But in the last decade it’s seen plenty of damage.

There are broken windows in nearly every classroom door and along the exterior of double paned windows. There are also broken ceiling tiles in the hallways and several rooms. 

“All the things that have been affected — the windows, the drop ceilings, paint — those are all newer things. The brick, the stone, the things that comprise the oldest pieces of the building, they are in the best shape possible,” Brain said. 

So developers purchased the building with a plan to restore with a new purpose.

Originally that plan was UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance. Then it was office space, but now with that less in demand because of COVID-19, it will be mixed use.

The 1908 building and its 1964 addition will be apartments. The remainder of the 220,000-square-feet, a 1992 addition, will be office space.

To see how historic school spaces can be transformed, you don’t have to go far.

Right across the street at the old Westport Junior High is Plexpod Westport Commons. The same group finished the 160,000-square-foot office space redevelopment in 2017. They also turned Swinney Elementary in Kansas City’s West Plaza neighborhood into West Hill Lofts after the school district began shuttering several schools in 2010. 

“You can see an old classroom that looks pretty deteriorated, but you can actually see what it can become and realize that it’s current situation isn’t defined to what its future opportunity can be,” said Chip Walsh, principal at Sustainable Development Partners of Kansas City.

Preserving is more expensive than building new because of the need to redo a lot of the plumbing and HVAC. There are historic tax credits, but it will cost $50 million to repurpose the high school built for a reported $500,000.

But to be able to save the buildings and a lot of their original elements like auditoriums, murals and chalkboards, it’s a price worth paying for the school’s tens of thousands of graduates and its neighbors.

“Generally speaking people are excited to see this vacant blighted decaying building turned around, revitalized, salvaged and saved productively,” Brain said.

If they get Master Plan Development approval from the city and financing worked out they hope to have the apartments ready for people to move in by the summer of 2022. 

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