Englewood arts center construction

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net
The Examiner

With the partnership between a local nonprofit and a Metro Community College, several high school students taking on college work are getting a good view of some real-life construction work.

A construction manager (left) supervises high school students through Metro Community College as they get ready to install one of many new windows in what will be Englewood Arts Center, on Winner Road in Independence.

For several months, Englewood Arts has been working to transform the former mental health services building on Winner Road in Independence into the Englewood Arts Center. One of the more tedious projects, perhaps, is replacing nearly all of the 104 windows through all four levels in the 30,000-square-foot structure. Over the past three weeks, through the end of March, nine students in the Kansas City Construction Career Academy – a collaboration that includes MCC-Business & Technology, North Kansas City Schools, JE Dunn Construction and the Kauffman Foundation – are installing the new windows.

“It’s one of the most major things we had to get done besides getting the roof replaced and finished,” said Brandon Schnur, Englewood Arts’ construction manager. “It helps insulate the building and keeps the weather from coming in. If I was doing it myself, it would at least take a few more months.”

High school students through Metro Community College work to install new windows on the north side of what will be Englewood Arts Center, facing Winner Road in Independence.

Schnur said Englewood Arts had started discussions with MCC even before he came on board with the project, and the school “was excited to help us in any way they could.”

“Not only is it helping us fulfill our mission, being an education center, but it’s helping them with on-site training, which they desperately need.”

MCC-Business & Technology will soon close and have several degree programs transferred to the MCC-Blue River east campus, and Tom Meyer is president of both campuses. 

“He’d developed a working relationship with the people at Englewood,” instructor Je-Anne Rueckert said, “and shortly thereafter I got asked, ‘Is this something your kids can do?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely.’”

“This was a fantastic opportunity for them. We do a lot of stuff in the lab, but my vision for them is to be out and about in the field. The students seem to grow a lot better that way.”

Donations and grants covered transportation, work jackets and tools for the students, and Rueckert said she appreciates that it’s a low-key learning opportunity.

She said a project like this can hopefully help the MCC program’s profile and lead to future partnerships, possibly with Habitat for Humanity.

“This is cool because the people taking them in to do this, they know they’re students,” Rueckert said. “Before, we did a partnership with a homebuilders association, and it was high-pressure, which the kids performed great, but I would’ve felt terrible if they made a big mistake.”

The students are replacing all windows in the top three floors and some in the basement – 90 in all. Schnur said it has helped that they didn’t have historical considerations with the windows, as opposed to similar work at the 1859 Jail or the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, for nearby examples in Independence.

“We made sure we got the best windows we could,” he said.

The Rotary Club of Independence recently raised close to $370,000 through its Mardi Gras fundraiser for the Englewood Arts Center’s $2 campaign to overhaul and furbish the building, and Cornell Roofing & Sheet Metal and two other metro area companies also teamed up to replace the roof – a $130,000 cost. 

Schnur said the project generally remains on track to open the first floor to the public within a couple months.

“Everything changes day to day, and we have 50 fires burning at once,” Schnur said. “But no matter what, we’re so close on the first floor that even smaller events, I’m sure we’ll be able to do stuff by the end of spring.”