Sumner School Makes Endangered List

It's not a list you strive to be on, but it's one the city hopes spurs action.

Topeka's former Sumner Elementary School building, at 4th and Western, was named Tuesday as one of America's eleven most endangered historic places.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has issued the list for the past 20 years as a way to raise awareness of endangered landmarks. Amy Cole, a senior program manager with the Trust's Mountains Plains Office in Denver, says the buildings all help tell America's story.

Cole says Sumner caught their attention for its contributions to civil rights history. Sumner was one of USD 501's all-white schools at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling desegregating public schools. The school closed in 1996 as part of the district's efforts to come into compliance with the ruling. Since then, it's remained vacant, save for a few stints hosting police training sessions. It's fallen into disrepair with peeling paint and water-logged ceiling tiles.

But the National Trust is optimistic. Cole says the building is in generally good condition. She says there is some water damage and graffiti and the windows are boarded up to prevent any additional damage.

Saving the building will take money. City officials say one estimate several years ago came in at $5 million for a complete renovation. City leaders hope a spot on the endangered list will spur donors to step up.

Deputy City Manager Randy Speaker says the city does not have the resources to renovate the building on its own, so will be requiring partnerships. Speaker says demolition is always an option, but it's not the preferred option. He says the city would prefer to see the heritage preserved into the future.

Cole says if this building were to be demolished, it would be a huge loss. She says its one of only 2500 in the country to have National Historic Landmark status.

The group Community First has an option on the building and hopes to use it for a charter school and other programs. They face a May 30th deadline to show the city they have a financial plan for rehabbing the building, starting its programs and maintaining them into the future.


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