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Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

Ottawa agrees to sell school building

April 1, 2004

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— The ax hanging over the old Ottawa middle school has been lifted.

The Ottawa school board voted Monday night to sell the landmark at the corner of Fifth and Main streets to a Kansas City developer for $100,000.

The school, which dates to 1917, had been at the center of a battle between those who wanted to demolish and those who wanted to save it.

Steve Foutch, of Allied Development and Kansas City, Mo.-based Gastinger Walker Harden Architects, bought the old school and has several renovations planned.

The auditorium in the south building will be turned into a community theater. The rest of the building will be low-income housing for the elderly. The north building will be converted into loft apartments that will be rented out at market price. Also, a private recreational center and meeting rooms will be built.

Foutch said the entire project would cost between $7 million and $8 million.

The Ottawa Friends of Historic Buildings, the group that has been fighting to save the school the past eight years, will be a limited partner.

"We're ecstatic," said Linda Marks, a member of the group. "That building is irreplaceable."

Jeanette Lowry, president of the Ottawa school board, said when she first ran for the board seven years ago she was the only member who wanted to save the building.

Monday night, the board voted 6-1 to sell the building.

"I was surprised and thrilled," Lowry said.

Lowry said a combination of several factors changed the minds of board members. With the sale, $733,000 that was put in escrow to demolish the building will be released. This money, plus proceeds from the sale, will be used to pay down the bond issue that built a new middle school in 1996.

By paying the bond down, Lowry said, district voters might be more willing to approve a bond to pay for improvements at Ottawa High School. That bond should come for vote in November, she said.

Marks said the old school was like an anchor on Main Street. There are five blocks of old businesses, the school with the old Carnegie library and park across from it, and then houses.

"It's quite the setting," Marks said.

Lowry said people come through Ottawa and comment on how beautiful the school is.

"It's like a castle in Kansas," she said.

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