A two-alarm fire Sunday morning destroyed much of what was left of the old Anderson Elementary School in western Independence. It is unclear what caused the fire, but one firefighter was transported to Centerpoint Medical Center for evaluation.
Carol Jean Mays looked at burned out remnants of the former Pitcher Elementary School, now known as Anderson Alternative School, with a sad look in her eyes.
“My first child went to school in this building. My second and third ones did, too,” said the lifelong Independence resident. “I was PTA president and helped to create the first on-campus library. I later came back to work as the school secretary. I have a big emotional involvement with this building, and I couldn’t believe it when I heard there was a fire.”
Firefighters in Independence are still investigating the fire that struck the abandoned school on East 35th Street in western Independence early Sunday morning.
Capt. David Shelley of the Independence Fire Department said there were still hot spots throughout the building Monday morning, specifically those areas where roofing material and insulation had been pushed into piles.
However, it’s still too early to know what caused the fire, officials said. The fire broke out early Sunday morning, and flames and smoke were visible when firefighters arrived, officials said.
“Our fire marshal is there again today,” Shelley said on Monday. “We haven’t finished our investigation.”
In addition, a firefighter suffered minor injuries during the fire. Shelley said he’s been released and would be fine.
Shelley said there are no road closings around the building and that fire equipment is off the road.
A spokesperson for the Independence Police Department also said police will examine the building and property once fire officials are finished with their investigation.
Originally built as a country school on land donated by Col. Pitcher, Pitcher Elementary was renamed the C.R. Anderson Alternative School by the Kansas City School District in the 1980s when it moved from serving elementary students. A new Pitcher Elementary was built nearby and still operates as part of the Kansas City School District.
The Anderson building was closed by Kansas City in 2000. The Independence School District acquired it in 2008 after voters approved a transfer of seven schools in western Independence to the Independence School District.
Mays, who serves on the NorthWest Communities Development Corporation board of directors in the Fairmount area, said once the building had been transferred to the Independence School District, work began to find a buyer for the property who could revitalize it.
While initial plans called for demolishing it, Mays said Kansas City-based Garrison Companies eventually came on board and proposed converting it into a building for senior housing. The district sold the building in June 2011 to Anderson School Development, an affiliate of Garrison Companies.
Developer Gary Hassenflu said he still plans to move forward with converting the property into 84 independent living units for senior citizens.
However, that project cannot move forward until financing is in place, and Hassenflu said he plans to apply for tax credits later this year.
“I think there is a need for that type of housing in that place,” Hassenflu said. There are aging residents in that area, and I’m still excited about the potential for the project.”
Mays agreed, saying that something should be done with the former school.
“No empty school building is good news,” she said. “The developer had thought about turning it into a senior citizens apartment complex and things were going well. It makes me sick to think about this old building looking like this.”
Adrianne DeWeese contributed to this article.