DUQUESNE, Mo. —
Leaders with the city of Duquesne and the Joplin School District are trying to figure out what to do with the former Duquesne Elementary School building and property, which is now sitting empty at 1301 S. Duquesne Road.
It appears that the property could eventually be turned over to the town.
After a meeting earlier this week with the Duquesne mayor and an advocate of the one-story schoolhouse, the school district’s chief financial officer, Paul Barr, said Thursday that administrators plan to recommend to the Board of Education later this month that it be declared surplus property, the logistical first step in disposing of property to another owner.
That would be welcome news to Mayor Denny White, who said the city has expressed an interest in keeping the now-vacant school to turn it into a community center, with the surrounding grounds converted into a walking trail and park. He said the city likely wouldn’t have the funds to build a project like that from the ground up.
“We feel like it would be a great thing for Duquesne,” he said.
Janeil Bryan, a former Duquesne student and the daughter of a former Duquesne principal, has been involved in the proposal to repurpose the school as a community center for nearly a year.
She said the school in previous decades served as the core of the Duquesne community, and renovating it into a community center could once again draw people together.
“It’s time to look to the future as to what our community can have for the next generation,” said Bryan, who lives in Southeast Kansas but still owns property in Duquesne. “It’s not just a building with past memories, but it’s also a building that can make future memories for us.”
White said there is a “long-standing agreement” dating to the 1960s that stipulates the school property would revert to Duquesne ownership in the event of reorganization by the Joplin School District. He said the city doesn’t have a copy of that agreement.
Bryan said it was more likely a handshake agreement that took place between the city and school district in the middle of that decade, when a mandate came from the state that rural schools be consolidated into existing districts. Duquesne, then an eight-grade rural school, was incorporated into the Joplin district around that time, she said.
By the time the 2011 tornado hit, some changes were coming to the school. Its students were set to be merged with Duenweg elementary students, with younger pupils attending the Duenweg school and older pupils attending the Duquesne school.
After the tornado, which struck days after the Board of Education approved the reorganization plan, Duquesne students were moved to Duenweg, while their school was used instead to hold students, faculty and staff from Emerson Elementary School, 301 E. 19th St., which was badly damaged in the storm.
More recently, the school was the campus for third through fifth grades of the combined Irving and Emerson schools, which officially moved into the new Irving School on South McClelland Boulevard earlier this month.
Duquesne and Duenweg students now attend the new Soaring Heights Elementary School on East 20th Street.
SUPERINTENDENT C.J. HUFF told the Globe last week that the district staff had been talking to Mayor Denny White about the future use of the school, and that administrators were considering turning the property over to Duquesne.
THE DISTRICT CURRENTLY OWNS the school and property, excluding some Federal Emergency Management Agency structures located on it, according to Paul Barr, the district’s chief financial officer.