Future of old high school uncertain

The south entrance of the former Kirksville High School is boarded up to bar entrance to the dilapidated structure. The building is slated to be demolished during summer and fall 2015.

Within the next few years, the City of Kirksville might have to demolish the building which previously housed Kirksville High School if the property is not brought into compliance with city codes or redeveloped soon.

The building, located at the corner of Mulanix and McPherson Streets, was built in 1914 and served as the city’s main high school until 1960, when it became a meeting place for the Kirksville Board of Education until 1978. Since then, several owners have purchased the high school, but it has not been well-maintained and is currently being considered for demolition. Currently, the high school ranked at No. 5 on Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation’s 2017 “Historic Places in Peril” list, which was created by the in an effort to bring awareness to important historical places around Missouri which could be saved from demolition.

Kirksville City Manager Mari Macomber said two city departments, the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Codes and Planning, have been working with the owners of the building to determine the future of the building.

“It’s kind of like an internal battle,” Macomber said. “We’ve got Community and Economic Development, who’s doing everything they can to try to find somebody who’s willing to invest in improving it, and then on the other side, we have Codes, who have to make sure it’s safe and that the neighborhood is secure.”

Macomber said action must be taken immediately to address the building’s issues, such as boarding up broken windows — of which there are over 70 in the building — and securing the site.

Macomber said the City applied for and received a grant to redevelop the building site several years ago, but the grant would not cover the cost of the redevelopment plan. Macomber said the lack of security and the possibility of falling bricks and tree limbs makes the building and site unsafe for the neighborhood, and the building will need to be demolished if no improvements or renovations plans are made.

In Missouri Preservation’s description of the Kirksville High School, it says the school is built in an Elizabethan/Collegiate Gothic style — the last building of this style in Kirksville. Not only is the school a one-of-a-kind building, but many older Kirksville residents attended the high school, making it a treasured memory within the community.

“It’s a very important building, not only because it’s a pretty old building, but also because of what it represents,” said Bill Hart, executive director of Missouri Preservation. “It’s the embodiment of a lot of memories for a lot of Kirksville residents who went to school there. It’s important because it was the first high school in Kirksville, because it’s a part of the community’s aspirations for learning.”

Hart said despite many who want to save the building, it is in rough shape — from broken windows to holes in the roof — and would require a lot of work to make the building usable again. Hart said if the building were to be redeveloped, it could be used for any number of things, such as an office building or student apartments. Hart said the Traveler’s Hotel is an example of a historic building in Kirksville that was saved from demolition by being redeveloped into a hotel, so he said the old Kirksville High School has the potential to be saved and repurposed.

Assistant City Manager Ashley Young said the city’s goal is not to have the building demolished, but if the current owners do not bring it to meet city compliance codes, or if another buyer does not purchase the school to redevelop it, the city has no choice but to do what is safe for the residents of Kirksville.

“Ultimately, the goal is to do what’s best for the community,” Young said. “Unfortunately, if the property isn’t redeveloped what is best for the community is that the building is demolished. But it would be better to redevelop the property than demolish it if we can find a developer who’s willing to do so.”