KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Investigators confirm a fire that badly damaged an historic former Kansas City, Kansas, school last week was arson.
Dozens of community members gathered Tuesday night in hopes of saving the Franklin Center in the Argentine neighborhood. They believe it can be saved, but with driving rain before and after that meeting and no roof over much of the building, they’ll need to act quickly.
“I think there were many of us who feared that this would almost potentially be a funeral,” Franklin Center Board President Kurt Rietema said to open the meeting in the Franklin parking lot.
As the community gathered to hear the latest from the first walk-through Tuesday, they shared stories of the how a school built in the 1800s transformed into a community center and co-op with a coffee shop with a café.
“I helped run this place for many years. It means a lot to me. Twenty years of my life was here,” Diane Stohlmann told a small group.
“It was always here to meet the needs of the community,” Kathy Hodges said to another small group elsewhere in the parking lot.
After the Franklin Center closed in 2009, a new board worked to get it on the National Register of Historic Places. But sitting vacant, it was a target for vandals.
“Our work of taking off all the graffiti off it wasn’t easy,” said Xochitl Galves, a volunteer with monthly food distributions in the parking lot.
In the case of last week’s arson, without any electricity they couldn’t get insurance.
“This is has been my greatest fear, and it was realized last week,” Rietema said.
Plans for $5.5 million in funding to restore the building into the community center it once was, plus a health clinic, fell through right before the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the fire, the board president said realistically that plan may no longer be viable. But they still hope their prayers will be answered.
“That even though we can’t see it right now that there can be a new story that’s written for this neighborhood and this building,” Rietema prayed.
The building that withstood the 1951 Argentine flood has just mainly roof damage from the fire.
“I would call it a survivor because it is still here,” Galves said.
A GoFundMe page has been established to seal the roof and perform other work to stabilize the building and save it from further damage.