The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

August 2, 2013

Baxter Springs school to be converted to senior housing

BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — A development group that specializes in renovating historic structures into affordable housing for senior citizens plans to invest $5.2 million in the Baxter Springs Middle School.

The school, which was built in 1918, is scheduled to be vacated by the school district in January when an 18,000-square-foot seventh- and eighth-grade addition at Baxter Springs High School is complete. Sixth-graders will move into a 10,300-square-foot addition, which includes a new cafeteria, being built at Central Elementary.

Kelley Hrabe, a partner with Prairie Fire Development Group, said his Overland Park company’s concept is similar to what has been done at the Frisco Station Apartments in Joplin and Hotel Stilwell and Hotel Besse in Pittsburg.

“From our standpoint, these buildings were built with such integrity and craftsmanship, and me living in Kansas City in a house built in 1917 — you just don’t see that kind of detail and craftsmanship these days,” Hrabe said. “If they haven’t been let deteriorate to a point of no return, then they deserve another 100 years of life in that community.”

Hrabe’s firm recently began a similar historic restoration project in Odessa, Mo., that will provide senior housing.

“Because these buildings have been there so long, they are part of the historic fabric of a community,” he said. “They deserve to be preserved and renovated, and what a better use to choose than a need that these communities have, which is affordable housing for seniors.

“From a sustainability standpoint, we are not adding to the carbon footprint, and we’re taking part of history and giving it new life.”

Last November, the school board received two bids for the purchase of the school: one for $100,000 from Prairie Fire, and one from Cohen-Esrey Affordable Partners, also of Overland Park, for $50,000. The board voted unanimously to accept the bid from Prairie Fire.

Prairie Fire plans to convert the school into 28 units for renters age 55 and older. Of the units, nine will be two-bedroom and 19 will be one-bedroom. They will rent in a range of about $340 to $490 a month, Hrabe said.

He plans on a 10-month time frame for construction, during which his company will hire an estimated 60 to 70 workers, many of them local or from the Four-State Area, he said. When the project is complete in about September 2014, the company will hire two permanent employees — a property manager and a maintenance director.

“We really try to engage the local economy for local suppliers and subcontractors,” he said.

Prairie Fire is in the process of working with the State Historic Preservation Office to get the building added to the historic register. It was approved for tax credits by the state of Kansas, something Hrabe said was critical to the project continuing.

The Kansas tax credit is equal to 25 percent of qualifying expenses incurred during a qualified project on a qualified building.

Scholarship fund

Kelley Hrabe, a partner with Prairie Fire Development Group, said the company also plans to give $50,000 to the Baxter Springs School District for a scholarship fund. “We like to give back financially to the community we’re in,” he said.

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