An old auto dealer location on Main Street just off the Independence Square, more recently the space for the MyArts program, is now in line to house Independence School District programs, including broadcast journalism in the district’s Career Academies.
“We have a lot of students who express interest in journalism,” Superintendent Dale Herl said.
Jackson County officials raised questions and concerns, but the County Legislature went ahead and voted unanimously to sell the building at 315 N. Main St. to the school district for “$1 and other valuable consideration.”
The county bought the building from the city of Independence in 2010 and used it for the MyArts program, which diverted the energies of at-risk youth into creative work. Their artwork was displayed and sold there. But the grants to pay for the program ran out at the end of 2016, said County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
For months, Baker’s office and the school district tried to work out a lease for school programs, but those discussions shifted to an outright sale, given the $300,000 to $350,000 cost to put in the broadcast studio, money the county was unwilling to invest.
The county has already put money into the building. It replaced the roof and made other improvements totalling $1.2 million.
“It was a pretty big investment that we put into that building,” said Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City.
In addition to Independence, MyArts had a Kansas City location, and Baker said officials are still “looking to replace both of those programs to some degree.” Under the school district’s control at the Independence site, the art gallery space would stay, and ISD students could have their artwork there.
Herl described the school district’s plans for the site:
• The broadcast space would be running when school starts in August 2018. The Career Academies are in the district’s three high schools. Each student picks a career focus, and those offerings range from business to culinary arts to drama and the visual arts. “They will have a fully functional studio there with that building,” Herl said.
• Move GED classes there, a more central location with the district.
• Have a place for the robotics team drawn from all three high schools to work and have competitions. That would be ready when robotics teams get especially busy right after the first of the year.
• Have a expanded space for the district’s All Things Independence store, which is a block away, to do large screen printing jobs.
One person in the county’s executive branch, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Mark Trossen, spoke against the sale. He said county departments and the courts have space needs, and that it makes no sense to rent space when the county has space it owns and at least ought to stop to consider using before getting rid of it.
For instance, he said, Family Court is about to lose rented space in Kansas City and new space to rent, he said, will likely cost more.
“My point is this is a county building, and we need to explore other uses by county departments and the courts,” he said.
But Legislator Dennis Waits, D-Independence and sponsor of the measure to sell the building, said the county had an understanding with Independence that the building would be kept in some form of community use.
Williams said she understands what the school district is trying to do.
“I struggle a little bit with the one-dollar thing,” she said, though she and the other six legislators present voted for it.