Listening post focuses on Wyman School's future

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Listening post focuses on Wyman School's future

Fri, 02/14/2020 - 10:34
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■ BUILDING VACANT ■ APARTMENTS AN IDEA ■ DEMOLITION: $1M

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EXCELSIOR SPRINGS – Twenty-seven residents gathered Sunday afternoon to discuss Wyman School’s future.

For the fourth listening post hosted by the city, people gathered at the Mug Coffeehouse. They spent 90 minutes discussing the long-abandoned structure at the center of a residential area on Dunbar Avenue.

Economic Development Director Melinda Mehaffy began the meeting with a proposal brought to the city in September by Builders Development Corp., Kansas City. BDC proposed using lowincome tax credits to repurpose Wyman for housing. To qualify for tax credits, the proposal requires some three-bedroom units, Mehaffy said. BDC’s plan would contain 21 units inside the empty three-story building, and construc six duplexes containing 12 threebedroom units on the remaining property.

Resident Bob Gerdes asked about parking for that many units.

Mehaffy said rezoning from R-3 to R-4 would require 60 parking spaces for the units, where 48 to 50 spaces now exist. To add spaces could require removing the standalone boiler room structure on the property.

Teacher Kindy Kessler asked about the impact on Lewis Elementary School and student enrollment due to adding what many consider “transient families.” Mehaffy said that would be considered during the rezoning process and the school district would be included.

Asked why so many units would go in the limited space, City Manager Molly McGovern said business created the plan based on a point system that would give the developer tax credits for construction.

“We weren’t excited about adding … structures to the land, but the developer needed three-bedroom units to earn the points for incentives,” McGovern said. “Without the additional units, the developer knows there will be no incentives for this project.”

Resident Christine Snow worried about adding 33 rental units in a small space on Dunbar, a narrow, curvy, busy street, and about a negative impact on surrounding property values. She suggested tearing down Wyman for being a dangerous building that contains asbestos and is vandalized frequently. She said the location would be difficult to develop and suggested using the land as a natural space for the neighborhood.

Residents April Graham and Judy Pope voiced concerns about razing the historic structure. Wyman is on a federal registry, but not on a local registry. There are no use or preservation restrictions on the building.

Pope recalled visiting an old school that had been repurposed for senior living in Ottawa, Kansas. Developers retained classroom items, such as the chalkboard, as part of the building’s charm. The gym and cafeterias remained as public gathering spaces.

Mayor Brad Eales said demolition would burden taxpayers.

“We got an estimate on the cost of demolition seven years ago. Back then, the cost was over $1 million. I’m sure that cost would be higher today. The city would only consider this option if the building were structurally unsound, but Wyman is a sound building,” Eales said.

Graham said Eureka Springs and other towns have thrived and grown by keeping their unique charm and character while developing.

“I understand that repurposing old buildings like Wyman is an absolute pain and very expensive. But listening posts like this are good opportunities for us to find solutions to problems like this. If we keep this heritage alive and pass the character along, it gives us a better chance, I think, in our continued success,” Graham said.

Resident Paul McKinney shared his frustration with watching Wyman deteriorate in front of his house while plan after plan to address the problem has failed. Other abandoned structures in town, including the Royal Hotel and Roosevelt School, also present issues, he said, and asked how the city would end the problems.

McGovern said the city can take charge of city-owned buildings, such as Wyman, but buildings owned privately are another issue. She said the city would not let the mistakes of the past continue with Wyman.

Resident Courtney Cole said she dreamed of seeing the facility become a complex similar to what exists in the west bottoms of Kansas City. She said that area is full of vendors in a flea market environment. Wyman would not need a large amount of renovation, just cleaning and opening the space, she said.

Kessler shared her dream of a youthfocused facility outside the community center that would provide basic needs for students: tutoring, temporary housing, and food and clothing, if needed. She said Wyman could help youth outside of the school environment.

“If the community as a whole invested in our children with a project like this, the rewards would be tenfold in the future,” she said.

Mehaffy said Builders Development Corp. has not approached the city on the housing project officially but may in the spring. If so, then Mehaffy said all parties involved would be notified as the rezoning process begins.