November 1, 2012

District considering sale of former Mueller Elementary building

One of five Wichita schools that closed this year as part of new attendance boundaries and cost-cutting measures soon may be auctioned.

One of five Wichita schools that closed this year as part of new attendance boundaries and cost-cutting measures soon may be auctioned.

Wichita school board members are considering a plan to auction the former Mueller Elementary building, near 24th Street North and Hillside, as officials look to get rid of surplus properties.

“Certainly, in these tough economic times, if there’s something else that can be done with it, I’m all for that,” said board member Betty Arnold, whose district includes the area around Mueller.

“That’s a good location. I can’t think of things that could or would exist there, but as long as it’s responsible and fits in with the community, I think that’s just absolutely a win-win situation.”

If officials approve the plan, it would be the second district property auctioned this year.

The former Booth Elementary School, 5920 E. Mount Vernon, was auctioned in July to Hope International Fellowship, a nondenominational Christian church that paid $83,000 for the property.

Mueller, 2821 E. 24th St. North, was one of four elementary buildings closed last spring when the district redrew its attendance boundaries. The others – Bryant, Emerson and Lincoln – remain vacant as well.

The former Northeast Magnet High School at 17th Street and Chautauqua is now the Chester I. Lewis Academic Learning Center, which houses Metro-Boulevard Alternative High School.

During boundary discussions, officials said they proposed closing Mueller because structural issues and groundwater beneath the building prevented them from adding a storm shelter and completing other projects as proposed in the 2008 bond issue.

The aerospace and engineering magnet school moved to the former Isely Elementary building, 2500 E. 18th, when Isely’s program moved to a new building in Bel Aire.

Some area residents, including members of the local NAACP chapter, lobbied the school board to keep Mueller open, decrying the shortage of neighborhood schools in central-northeast Wichita’s predominantly black neighborhoods.

Board members countered that over the past decade the district had upgraded, expanded or replaced eight schools in the area, adding more than 100 classrooms, science labs, libraries and multipurpose rooms.

Board president Lynn Rogers said the district no longer needs the old Mueller building, which opened in 1952. And the recent auction of Booth, which garnered more money than officials expected, showed there’s a market for old school buildings, he said.

“For a variety of reasons, it’s probably best for us to be done with it (Mueller) so it doesn’t continue to cost us for maintenance and repairs,” Rogers said.

“We’ll have the same safeguards we did with Booth … retaining the right to refuse any bid from a group that we don’t think would do the right thing for the neighborhood or that area.”

Mueller was built about the same time as Booth but is more than twice its size, at 57,100 square feet. Like Booth, it sits on a residential street and is zoned single-family residential.

For decades, white students chosen in a birthday lottery were bused for one year to Mueller as part of the district’s integration plan.

Mary Dean, an outspoken opponent of the school closures earlier this year, said Thursday she was “disappointed but not surprised” that the district is looking to unload the former Mueller property.

“Once the issue was a done deal, it’s like everybody moved on basically and just said, ‘Oh well, we knew it was going to happen,’ ” Dean said Thursday. “It’s such a disgrace, how everything turned out.

“We have all these vacant buildings now, and I guess the main question is: Who buys it, and what are they going to use it for?”

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