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Archive for Saturday, September 30, 1995

GRANT TO SAVE LECOMPTON HIGH

September 30, 1995

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— The old Lecompton High School building's future is finally looking bright.

A long struggle to preserve a landmark building in this northwest Douglas County community has produced a happy ending.

With a recent announcement that grant money was coming to Lecompton for renovation of the old Lecompton High School, longstanding worries over the building's long-range future finally vanished.

"It's absolutely fantastic," said Vicki Roberts, Lecompton postmaster. "The town is so pleased that a building that was supposedly structurally unsound has been saved."

The building's fate has been in doubt several times since 1983, when the Perry-Lecompton school district opted to close it. The building, which had been used as a high school from 1928 to 1970 and a junior high until 1983, was deemed too expensive to maintain and was considered to be a fire and health hazard.

While school board members talked about leveling the site, Lecompton residents worked with the district to find new uses for the building.

None proved feasible, but negotiations ended with the district selling the building to the city for $1.

"I think the district was pleased to be rid of it," said Dan Rockhill, a Lecompton resident who worked to save the building. "To them, it was just another headache."

To Lecompton residents, however, the building was anything but a nuisance. Rockhill said the old high school was a symbol of pride and unity, having been built to the highest standards in 1927.

"It's superior, in some ways, to the buildings we're able to build today," Rockhill said, listing features such as a tile roof and terazzo tile floors. The building also was the first in Lecompton with indoor plumbing, and featured 22-inch-thick walls.

As the '80s ended, though, it was a tarnished gem. Although the city had saved the building from the wrecking ball, it remained vacant and deteriorating for several years, becoming less and less attractive to a potential buyer or tenant.

About five years ago, however, the building's fortunes improved when the Northeast Kansas Education Service Center moved part of its operation into the old high school's halls.

The center, which provides services such as cooperative purchasing, computer training and special-education assistance to seven regional districts, began renovating and remodeling the school shortly after moving in.

The project -- and the building's comeback -- was cemented earlier this month when the city and service center received a $255,000 Kansas Small Cities Community Development Block Grant for renovation.

Under plans developed jointly by the city and service center, the funds will be used to increase the building's handicapped accessibility and to refurbish a third-floor theater for use as a community center.

Rockhill, who served on the school board and service center board during discussions about the building, said the situation turned out better than most observers had expected.

"I don't think there was ever a great deal of confidence that we'd see the type of arrangement we have today," he said.

Within a year, things should be looking up even more. Patty Hart, director of special education for the service center, said the center plans to move employees from its Oskaloosa office to Lecompton next summer.

The move, which was being planned before officials made their grant proposal, would bring 20 new employees to Lecompton.

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