The Shawnee Mission Board of Education on Monday approved the district’s purchase of 6.5 acres land on the Entercom property at 50th and Belinder in Westwood, setting the stage for the possible construction of a new Westwood View Elementary school in the city in the coming years.
While Westwood and district representatives were quick to point out that there was no timeline for building a new school on the site at this point — and that it would take the issuance of new bonds by the district to fund such a project — the purchase serves as a boost of confidence for a community that had weathered rumors of the school’s closing for years. The purchase price approved by the board was $1,386,560, which does not include closing costs, real estate and attorney fees.
Addressing the board on Monday, Westwood Mayor John Yé said the prospect of Westwood View closing had created a sense of animosity between residents and the district that he sought to broach soon after taking office.
“Our nature was to grab our pitchforks and grab our torches and fight the district to protect that school that we hold so dearly and firmly to our heart instead of making sure that we were working in tandem with you for long term success,” he said.
The deal between Entercom and the school district sets up the prospect of close collaboration between the city and Shawnee Mission in the coming years as Westwood seeks to implement a master plan to make the best use of public space in the Rainbow/Belinder neighborhoods near 50th Street, including the former Westwood Christian Church property the city bought in 2014.
The deal also represents a huge change to the Entercom property, which has operated as a broadcasting site since 1933. Though the radio tower on the property will remain in use for the foreseeable future (the district will allow Entercom to continue broadcasting stations KUDL and KMBZ from the tower), it would be dismantled and removed should the district move forward with the construction of a new school on the site.
While both district and city officials praised the deal as a sign of beneficial collaboration, the process by which the purchase was approved turned some heads.
Though Yé had acknowledged the pending deal during a candidate forum last week, the deal hadn’t been presented in a public meeting open for comment prior to Monday, when it appeared on the consent agenda and was unanimously approved without any discussion from board members.
Westwood resident Jim Orr spoke during the open forum prior to the vote and said that while he was supportive of the district purchasing the property and using it as the site for a new Westwood View building, he was displeased that word of the purchase was only communicated via the board’s agenda, making it difficult for neighborhood residents to consider whether they wanted to express thoughts or concerns prior to the board’s vote. Orr said he wanted to know more about the agreement between the city and the district that would grant the city the right of first refusal should the district move to sell the Entercom property in the future, but that no details were available about that aspect of the transaction before Monday’s vote.
“It’s very difficult — in fact, it’s impossible — for the citizens to be informed about all ramifications of this transaction…” he said. “That’s what troubles me. We, the citizens, the stakeholders, the owners, need time to think about this.”
After the meeting, Hinson defended the process by which the purchase had been approved, noting that it was “perfectly legal business for us to conduct” as part of a consent agenda.
The district’s purchase does not represent the entire Entercom property, which is 7.51 acres all together. The remaining 1.01 acres lie in five platted lots along Booth Street. Hinson said the district had no plans to acquire that acreage as well.