Preservation commission decides historical significance of local buildings

The stone marker above the south entrance of the old Kirksville High School shows the building’s original purpose.

The Kirksville Historic Preservation Commission denied the preservation of former Kirksville High School, scheduled to be demolished this fall because of the deteriorated condition of the building.

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The Kirksville Preservation Commission is organized and funded by the city.

The Kirksville Historic Preservation Commission identifies properties with historical features based on criteria established by the commission with the help of professional historians. Granted by a city ordinance, the Commission approves or denies preservation of historic structure that may be a part of a historic district or an individual property.

Additionally, the commission must pre-approve any changes to the external appearance of a preserved structure to maintain the historically significant architecture. Since Kirksville is a state Certified Local Government, owners of historical sites approved by the Commission could qualify for tax credits from the State Historical Preservation Office. Owners of potential properties have to approach the commission and apply for the designation of their property as a historical landmark.

Derek Miller, Historical Preservation Commission Chairman, says there are several characteristics a building  must before it can be designated as historical. Miller says buildings need to be more than 50 years old, be associated with a historical figure, or have certain architectural design characteristics. Miller says he thinks historical structures in Kirksville represent the city’s culture.

“I think there is a value in preserving that culture so we don’t lose it,” Miller says. “We as people here in our community identify with those things that identify us. So the real question is what do we want to be identified.”

Brad Selby, Codes and Planning Director, says the commission preserves historical sites and gives permission for any house to be demolished. He says the former Kirksville High School was a site that had potential to be preserved because of its age and building characteristics. Selby says the cost of repair of the building would have been enormous, possibly reaching into the millions.

Former Kirksville High school will be demolished this fall with the help of a state funded grant. The deterioration of the high school was too extensive to be preserved by the commission.

“The conversation got started because the building was an eyesore — it had about 75 broken windows, there was a hole in the roof, the roof leaked terribly, there was grass growing inside the building, trees growing on the roof — it was just a maintenance issue,” Selby says.

Selby says the state of Missouri has awarded Kirksville a grant to remedy deteriorating structures in the city in instances that people can’t afford to fix their properties. He says when the owner of a site comes to the Commission and seeks approval for demolition they also seek financial assistance help from the grant.

Sarah Halstead, Community Services Coordinator, writes grant proposals for the city of Kirksville. She says the grant is not only a benefit for the community but is also a benefit for the owner. She says the demolition of damaged buildings allows future economic development. She says no business owner would look at a building and see a future business — but once there is an empty lot, future investors might see potential for something new.