Former rural school building east of Lawrence being considered for future homeless shelter for families

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The former Kaw Valley School property at 1411 East 1850 Road is pictured on April 30, 2024.

A former rural school building between Lawrence and Eudora is under consideration by local government officials to become an emergency shelter for homeless families, the Journal-World has learned.

The former Kaw Valley School site at 1411 East 1850 Road is being actively considered to house the new shelter operations. Planners for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, city officials, county officials, township officials and various other stakeholders met on Tuesday morning at planning department offices for a “pre-application” meeting about the project.

Jim Gabriel — trustee for Eudora Township, which is the rural government that oversees roads and other such issues for the area in question — said meeting attendees were told either the City of Lawrence or Douglas County was considering purchasing the former school building.

The meeting discussed what types of planning approvals the property would need to be converted into an emergency shelter to house families. Gabriel said meeting participants were not told of any firm timeline for when the governments may make a decision on whether to formally pursue the project.

“I guess they are going to weigh all their options and look and see if they think it will go through or not before they get to the point of putting a plan into the zoning and planning commission,” Gabriel said.

photo by: Douglas County GIS/Journal-World

The site of the former Kaw Valley School is marked with a blue star on the map above.

City spokeswoman Cori Wallace said in a statement to the Journal-World that the city is “solidly in research/investigation mode” with the project.

“The city is exploring not only the needs of our community, but options and service models to meet the needs of families experiencing homelessness,” Wallace said via email. “This population is often invisible or operating in a consistent and long-term state of housing instability.”

Wallace said she anticipated the city would release more details on the process and current considerations in the near future.

The idea of an emergency shelter for homeless families is not new. The Journal-World on Sunday reported that a shelter that specializes in providing housing and services for families that are experiencing homelessness is a priority of the joint city-county plan to end homelessness.

In that article, Misty Bosch-Hastings, the city’s director of homeless solutions, said the city and county are actively looking for a location for a family shelter, and said that the process was far enough along that she’s been meeting with zoning staff about one particular property.

While details of how a shelter would operate at the Kaw Valley site are unknown, the city-county homeless plan — “A Place for Everyone” — states that the community will need 65 low-barrier emergency shelter beds for women and families by 2027.

The Kaw Valley site includes about a 10,000-square-foot building, and is for sale for about $1.15 million, according to an online real estate listing for the property. The building has been used a day care center at various times in the years since the Lawrence school district closed the school in the early 1990s. The property currently is owned by Peter Shenouda, and has an appraised value of about $470,000, according to Douglas County property records.

It seems clear that the site would have to win some special planning approvals before it could be used as an emergency shelter for homeless families. The project likely would need to receive a conditional use permit, which would require public hearings both at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the Douglas County Commission.

Gabriel said the meeting left unclear whether it would be the city or the county that would buy the property. He said if the county purchases the property, that might create concern with some because the Douglas County Commission, which would be the entity that would approve any purchase of the property, also would be the entity responsible for voting on whether the project should receive its necessary permit to operate.

As for whether the township that Gabriel leads will have any objections to a shelter project for the site, Gabriel said the board will be listening to what others who are close to the site have to say. The township board would not vote on the permit needed for the project — that is solely the purview of the planning and county commissions — but the township would be asked for formal comments as part of that process.

Gabriel said he hopes the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which was not part of Tuesday’s meeting, is consulted, and he said the views of the residents of several homes that are very near the site will be important.

“It might put quite a burden on them,” Gabriel said of the rural residences nearby. “My feeling is it is more so what the residents would want. That is who we represent, their voice.”


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