Kansas City Business Journal Editorial
March 03, 2016
School's out, luxury living's in at Swinney Elementary
As Alice Cooper might say, school's out forever at Swinney Elementary.But in the wake of a $15.9 million redevelopment project, the site of the Progressive Era structure at 1106 W. 47th St. is being repopulated as a too-cool-for-school luxury apartment community dubbed West Hill.
Located in Kansas City's West Plaza neighborhood, the E.F. Swinney School was built in three phases between 1914 and 1927, but Kansas City Public Schoolsshuttered the building in 2010.
Sold as part of the district's KC Schools Repurposing Program, the building was bought in 2013 by Swinney Development Partners LLC, which includes Lee's Summit-based Dalmark Development Group LLC and Sustainable Development Partners LLC (formerly Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners LLC).
Now, after a yearlong construction effort by Straub Construction Co. Inc., West Hill offers 33 apartments and amenities in the historic three-story brick schoolhouse plus 38 units in an addition that was constructed in place of a playground and parking lot that used to serve the school.
Designed by architects with Rosemann & Associates PC, the project offers studio through three-bedroom units ranging from 444 to 1,746 square feet, with rents starting at $975 a month.
During a recent tour, Dalmark Development project manager Zach Nichols noted the many vestiges of the historic structure's past that remain as features in individual apartments and common areas.
The stone foundation of an old boiler room is now the backdrop for an edgy new fitness center. The roof of the boiler room is now an outdoor patio that affords residents Country Club Plaza-area views. And part of Swinney Elementary's auditorium has been converted into a multipurpose room equipped with a Wellbeats digital fitness program that incorporates stationary bikes and a video monitor from which a personal trainer barks exercise instructions.
Individual apartments include a studio unit in what was once the principal's office and — one of Nichols' favorites — a one-bedroom, one-bath unit that was once part of the school gymnasium. As such, it features a ceiling that rises to 20 feet and restored hardwood flooring, complete with basketball court markings, such as the top of the free throw lane key.
The 880-square-foot unit, which also features a ceiling-less, one-story bedroom in the lofty space, inspires one to ask: What's the rent? It's $1,490, Nichols responds.
Another unit, which rents for $2,050, includes two bedrooms and two bathrooms in a 1,376-square-foot space that used to be the school library. It features large bay windows, a 14-foot-high ceiling, the library's original hardwood flooring and the original transom over the main doorway.
The units and common areas in the old schoolhouse are linked by wide hallways and stairways featuring vintage woodwork and replicas of the old schoolhouse pendant lights that used to shine down on pupils and teachers.
But West Hill also offers plenty of modern features, Nichols said. All 71 apartment units include walk-in closets, stainless steel appliances, sparkling quartz countertops, washers and dryers, and ceiling fans. Many units in the newly constructed apartment wing also include balconies.
Other community amenities include gated parking, a ground-level outdoor lounge, a rooftop terrace and 24-hour concierge service.
Jim Nichols, owner of Dalmark Development Group and managing general partner for West Hill's ownership, said the project represents the second historic school his firm has helped transform in Kansas City. In 2013, Dalmark, in partnership with actor Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation, converted the old Bancroft School at 4300 Tracy Ave. into affordable apartments and community amenities.
Bob Berkebile, a founding principal with the architecture firm BNIM, worked on the Bancroft School project. That led to the Swinney Elementary partnership between Dalmark and Sustainable Development Partners, which includes Berkebile as a founding partner.
E.F. Chip Walsh, principal and general manager of Sustainable Development Partners, said that one of the early challenges the partnership faced with the Swinney Elementary project involved a concrete tower that the school district had added to the historic structure to provide an additional stairway plus elevator access to the building.
Missouri's State Historic Preservation Office advised that the project could not qualify for state and federal historic tax credit financing because of the addition, Walsh said. But Swinney Development Partners had to close on the building before the partners knew whether their plan to remove the addition would make them eligible for the credits.
They rolled the dice and were able to qualify for the credits, which represented a significant portion of the project's equity piece.
"The easy play would have been to buy (the school), raze it and put up a lot of density," Walsh said. "But that's not what the neighborhood wanted, and it wouldn't have been a good fit with the fabric of the community."
Walsh said the West Hill project that neighbors now look to with pride was the result of extensive input from the West Plaza Neighborhood Association.
The association had become suspicious of new development in the area after Bob Bernstein's West Edge bankruptcy debacle in 2009. But with West Hill plus VanTrust Real Estate's eventual completion of the Polsinelli PC office tower and Hotel Sorella on the old West Edge site, neighbors have been able to celebrate two happy endings.
Other partners in the West Hill project included The Mission Bank, Bank of Lee's Summit, CRA Investments and Rosin Preservation. More information on the project can be found at westhillliving.com.