The former Kellogg Elementary School in Wichita still feels like a school building.
Porcelain water fountains line part of a hallway. A cartoon-character mural decorates the nurse’s office. Chalk boards, coat hooks, cubby holes and bulletin boards remain in old classrooms. On the second floor, a door marked “TEACHERS” in black stenciled letters marks the entrance to the teachers’ lounge.
But Kellogg Elementary is residential space now, an 18-unit apartment building remodeled and repurposed by Wichita contractor Don Vaughn Jr.
“For people who renovate old schools and people who rent them, there’s just that appeal of taking you back in time,” Vaughn said.
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“They’re not just cookie-cutter apartments like you see going up now. … There’s still so much charm, and they’re really great places after all these years.”
As the Wichita district plans to sell five vacant school buildings, officials say the primary goal is to unload surplus property that has become a drain on the district’s budget.
They’re not sure what the market may be for the old schools – including one that just hit the century mark – or how much they might bring in auctions or private-treaty sales. But they’re hopeful that potential buyers will give the old buildings new life.
‘Let’s get rid of them’
“They don’t meet district standards, so their school purpose is no longer,” said Shane Schumacher, who oversees property management for the district.
“It’s just time, because we don’t have the resources that we used to,” he said. “But we want to be good stewards to our neighbors when we sell these. We want something that’s going to fit well in a neighborhood.”
Over the past few decades, former Wichita schools have become churches, private schools and upscale apartments. The former Lincoln Elementary, which closed in 2012, became the new home for the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County.
Just last month, the former Martinson School near Second and Meridian, which was renovated into apartments in 2003, was one of the hottest properties in Wichita, listed for $790,000.
Downtown developers Dave Burk and Jason Van Sickle converted the former Wichita High School at 324 N. Emporia into Flats 324, an upscale apartment community.
“Any time you’re able to take something like that in a city that’s just sitting and not performing and you’re able to put a use to it, it’s just good for the city in general,” said Jeff Englert, a broker with Martens Commercial who specializes in churches and similar properties.
“There’s no reason to have ongoing maintenance costs for these properties, and the longer they sit, the further they’re going to deteriorate,” he said. “If they’re not utilizing them, I agree: Let’s get rid of them.”
Converting schools a challenge
The five schools hitting the market now have potential but come with some challenges, Englert said.
Unlike the Martinson project, which is close to Wichita’s popular Riverside neighborhood, and the old Alcott school, which is close to Wesley Medical Center and College Hill, or the downtown appeal of Flats 324, most of the older schools for sale aren’t in areas where you could charge enough rent to make an expensive conversion project worthwhile.
“The cost to convert a school building to apartments is not inexpensive, so you have to be in an area where you can justify the rents for it,” Englert said.
Historic tax credits, which Vaughn used on his Kellogg project, could be a possibility for some of the buildings, Englert said. Other possible buyers could be churches or social service agencies looking for space.
“It’s all about figuring out what can be done with the buildings feasibly,” he said.
In general, schools are difficult to sell because they tend to be large and old. For every success such as Martinson, Alcott or Kellogg, there are schools such as the former Riverview Elementary, 5355 N. Seneca, which was sold but sat vacant for years before finally being razed in 2013.
Similarly, the former Carleton School at 402 S. Broadway annoyed neighbors by sitting vacant for years after the district sold it to the city of Wichita. It has since been demolished.
After this, one vacant building
Four of the five schools entering the market now were built in the 1920s or before.
The oldest – the former Webster Elementary building (most recently Gateway Alternative) at 640 N. Emporia – opened in 1916. All are on fairly major thoroughfares.
Blackbear Bosin Academy – the former Price Elementary, on 11th Street west of Woodlawn – was built in 1956 and is tucked into a neighborhood, surrounded by more than 6 acres of property.
Burk, the developer who converted Flats 324 and plans to turn the current school administration building into loft apartments, said he is busy with projects and likely won’t be interested in any of the old schools.
He said he hopes the district finds buyers that will maintain or convert them into a new use.
“I hope they sell and they are redeveloped versus being torn down,” he said.
Over the past two decades, the Wichita district has closed or consolidated about 20 schools. Several have been sold, including historic properties near downtown.
Others remain in the district’s inventory. They include Michener, which the Wichita Police Department uses as a training center; McCormick, which has held the school district’s museum since 1992; and Field, which has been leased by the nonprofit Trees for Life since 1998.
Two years ago, officials with the nonprofit Fundamental Learning Center offered the district $350,000 for one of two vacant buildings – Blackbear Bosin or Emerson Elementary at 2330 W. 15th St. – but officials said they weren’t selling. The group has since secured a location for its literacy academy, and the district moved its Gateway program to Emerson.
Schumacher said the district plans to keep Bryant Elementary, 4702 W. Ninth St., for emergencies. Bryant, which closed in 2012, was used as a temporary school for College Hill Elementary after that school was damaged in a fire.
“We like to have at least one building that could be used in cases like that,” he said. “But that would be the only vacant building we would have left.”
School buildings on the market
The Wichita school board voted last week to sell five surplus school buildings and about 17 acres of land adjacent to Jackson Elementary, at 29th Street North and Woodlawn.
Here are some details on the vacant buildings.
▪ Blackbear Bosin Academy (formerly Price Elementary), 6123 E. 11th St., was built in 1956 and closed in 2011. It has 21,498 square feet and sits on 6.5 acres.
▪ Gateway Alternative (formerly Metro-Midtown), 640 N. Emporia, was built in 1916 and closed last year, when the Gateway program moved to the former Emerson Elementary. It has 29,155 square feet on 2 acres.
▪ Longfellow Elementary, 2116 S. Main, was built in 1930. It has 32,013 square feet on 2.8 acres.
▪ Metro-Boulevard Alternative High School (formerly Willard Elementary), 751 S. George Washington Blvd., was built in 1924. It has 23,498 square feet on 1.17 acres.
▪ Metro-Meridian Alternative High School, 301 S. Meridian, was built in 1927. It has 26,393 square feet on 2.1 acres.