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Will halfway house come to Blue Summit?

Jeff Fox
The old Stark School, which local officials say has become dangerous and attracts drug deals and dog fights, could be renovated as a federal halfway house if a proposal approved in early 2019 comes through.

Jackson County officials see a glimmer of hope that a promised federal halfway house will come to Blue Summit after all.

The County Legislature 15 months ago approved letting KADO Partners take over the old Stark School on Blue Ridge Boulevard just south of Truman Road. The company has done nothing since to secure the crime-ridden property and still lacks a needed federal contract to operate a halfway house.

But last week it exercised its option to move ahead and wants 90 days to work out a final deal with the county’s Land Trust, which holds the deed and is looking for some sort of return of value to the taxpayers.

There is quite a way to go “but I’d say we’re in better shape than we were in the last 18 months,” Michael Hunter, commissioner of the Land Trust, told legislators Monday.

“If we could close (the deal) in 2020, I think that would be a home run,” he said. “I don’t know how realistic that is.”

For now though, officials have expressed concern about dog fighting, drug deals and other activity in the abandoned building. Legislator Jalen Anderson, D-Blue Springs, has pressed for answers regarding the KADO Partners plans and pressed for action to secure the building.

“We have ... faced quite a few struggles there, to say the least,” he said.

Hunter agreed and said the building was apparently used last fall for a haunted house. Word got out on social media, and people brought their families.

“I can tell you that having been through that thing that’s about as dangerous a haunted house as you’ll ever go through,” he said.

“I know it’s a blighting influence in the neighborhood as unfortunately many Land Trust properties are,” he said, “but this one sort of sets its own standard, candidly.”

Still, he said, “it’s the position of the Land Trust that this is the best shot we have to clean this property up.”

KADO wants 90 days to negotiate a final deal, and that time frame is itself a point of negotiation. The county wants the company to at least secure the building – also a point of negotiation, though Hunter said KADO seemed open to it.

KADO said in early 2019 that it planned a halfway house for federal inmates – non-violent offenders, 115 men, 15 women – nearing the end of their sentences and beginning to make the transition back to society. They would leave during the day for work.

County officials and Blue Summit residents debated the plan extensively at the time. Residents said they feared federal inmates would wander in the area, though others said these are low-risk, white-collar offenders and the promise of a swift return to prison should they mess up keeps them in line. Some in Blue Summit said the project would bring badly needed jobs to the area and get the property back on the tax rolls.

After much discussion, the County Legislature approved rezoning of the site in March 2019. KADO said at the time that the building would be refurbished and open in about two years and that the company would have a 10-year contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.