Demolition of local school threatens public health, community fights to save it

Built in 1906, the historic Greenwood Elementary School has been abandoned since the mid-1990’s, accumulating over $100,000 in city fees and violations.

The remains of the school sit at 27th and Cleveland within the neighborhood of South Round Top (SRT) on the east side of Kansas City.

Within the last year, the Kansas City School Board slated the school for demolition instead of repurposing it.

Multiple studies show demolishing historic buildings significantly increases the risk of lead and other hazardous chemicals contaminating the surrounding environment. Additional hazards for SRT are a highway that cuts through the heart of the neighborhood and an oil leak that has gone unchecked for over 50 years.

While the school board may be set on the idea of demolition, the South Round Top Neighborhood Association (SRTNA) wishes to instead create a destination: a place that is not just a community center, but a beacon of inspiration for their neighborhood and surrounding communities.

Director of UMKC’s Urban Studies Program, Dr. Jacob Wagner, and his students have helped the SRTNA delay the demolition of the school. The delay they are fighting for will give them enough time to develop an asset map of the neighborhood and a feasibility study for the renovation and repurposing of Greenwood.

This will assist SRT in determining the best use for the building should it be saved and renovated. It is significantly easier, more effective and safer to contain lead and asbestos during a building renovation, as opposed to during a building demolition.

The demolition of this historic building, along with hundreds of other demolitions carried out in the neighborhood over the years, contributes to the conditions of a “lead-loaded” environment.

Members of the community are at a higher risk of exposure to lead poisoning. Granny’s Pray & Play is a daycare located right across the street from Greenwood, and a demolition of the school would put those children and nearby residents at risk of toxic exposure during the process.

“We are concerned about the exposure of the dust with the trucks coming and going, and pushing down a building that has been there for about 112 years,” Wagner said.

Knowing there is mold, lead, asbestos and other chemicals in the building, Wagner is worried about the effects the demolition would bring.

Many schools in wealthier areas of the Kansas City area have been converted or repurposed with positive outcomes for the surrounding community. Simply demolishing large, public buildings decreases the surrounding property values and poses a challenge for neighborhood revitalization efforts. Especially in the case of Greenwood, as the school board lacks a plan for the vacant lot they’d be creating.

Although the SRTNA wishes to repurpose the school, the board is moving forward with their plan to demolish Greenwood.

“I don’t think that the neighborhood was presented with a viable option to restore the building,” Wagner said.

According to Wagner, there were past opportunities for the school board to sell the building to private developers while it was in better shape, but they never did. With the building ignored for years, it would cost more to renovate now than before the years of neglect.

Both the city manager and The Homesteading Authority of Kansas City support saving and assisting Greenwood, however.

Irving Graham, president of the SRTNA, has been instrumental in the efforts to save Greenwood and organizing the community behind a common cause. However, it has been a challenge for the SRTNA to fully establish an effective conversation with the school board about reconsidering the future of Greenwood.

Nevertheless, Graham is still optimistic the school board will change their initial decision, especially considering he recently helped identify a potential developer for the property.

The neighborhood of SRT is doing their best to work together to improve the livelihoods of everyone in the community, a task that will be significantly easier if they succeed in saving such a valuable asset.

In the words of Dr. Wagner, “We can’t demolish our way out of poverty.”

Since the school is scheduled for demolition any day now, Mr. Graham, Dr. Wagner and SRTNA.

If you wish to help save the Greenwood school from demolition, their GoFundMe and petition links are provided below. If you would like to express concern to the school board or gather more information, the school board can be reached at 816-418-7000



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