The Jefferson City School District has purchased more than 30 properties impacted by the May 22 tornado near Jefferson City High School to address on-campus needs, school officials said.
The district has a goal of providing comparable athletic fields at JCHS and Capital City High School, the second high school in the district, which opened this year. Work to achieve that goal has been vested with the Board of Education, district administration and a nine-member outdoor facility focus group.
“After the tornado came through, we had some property owners come to us and ask if we’d be interested in their property because they were damaged,” said Jason Hoffman, JC Schools chief financial and operating officer. “We talked about it, and just knowing the sensitivity of it, we’ve kind of trod lightly.”
In June, the district mailed 52 letters to property owners, and a majority of the responses were good, Hoffman said. The school board began purchasing the properties in closed-session meetings in August, he said.
In October, the board approved $2 million for property acquisition. The acquisitions will be paid from a one-time, $2.4 million increase in revenue from county stock insurance, Hoffman said. County stock insurance is tax revenue the district receives once a year from insurance premiums paid by companies that are legal residents of the state, he said.
As of Nov. 5, the district has spent $1.05 million on property acquisition.
The properties are in an area bounded by Stadium Boulevard, Jackson Street, Oberman Place and Adams Street near Adkins Stadium. A majority of the acquired homes are in the 400 block of Union Street and 400 block of Case Avenue.
The market value of the properties is about $994,500, according to information from the Cole County Assessor’s Office.
Closing dates for the properties are being handled on a case-by-case basis, Hoffman said. Some sellers are working with renters to ensure they can relocate.
“We have striven to be very respectful of the interests of the property owners,” Hoffman said. “We are working with each owner and having discussions with them based on their time lines.”
The district does not plan to maintain the current structures on the newly acquired properties.
“The conditions that most of them are in, they need to come down,” Hoffman said. “The city is starting to enforce some of their rules, and so they’re going to make us board them up and put fences around them.”
The district has not applied for any demolition permits at this time, according to city records.
No plans have been discussed to acquire more homes in the neighborhood, Hoffman said.
The acquisition of the property is tied to an effort to create an equity between the remodeled Jefferson City High School and the newly constructed Capital City High School, JC Schools officials said.
“At Capital City High School and Jefferson City High School, the underlying root is we want to give all of our students the same opportunity regardless of where you go to school,” JC Schools Superintendent Larry Linthacum said.
CCHS opened in August with ready-to-use soccer, track and football practice areas. Tennis courts will be ready for competition by spring, Linthacum said.
The baseball and softball field at CCHS will be for practice only, with a plan for competition-ready space in the future.
Phase two plans for competition space at all facilities. The district is currently sharing the competition facilities.
At JCHS, Adkins Stadium hosts football and track events. Baseball, softball, soccer and tennis use off-campus facilities at 179 Soccer Field, Vivion Field, Ellis-Porter Riverside Park and Washington Park to practice.
Adding competition fields at JCHS is part of phase two for the outdoor facilities, Linthacum said. Those plans could come to fruition anywhere from three months to 33 years from now, he said.
“We have some phase two renderings of possibilities between Adkins Stadiums and the hospital that could be a part of phase two at JC — but we don’t own enough of those properties now to be able to do that right now,” he said.
Placing athletic fields on-site at JCHS makes sense to Brenda Hatfield, who is director of quality improvement with the district and sits on the outdoor facility focus group.
“I can understand where it would be difficult to get your child, if they’re not a driver, to get your kids out to 179,” said Hatfield, whose children have been in the district 17 years. “I can totally see where it would be so much better for our kids and provide so many more opportunities if we had space closer to the school.”
Past efforts by the district to expand the JCHS campus were met with some opposition by neighbors.
In 2016, the district discussed the potential purchase of nine mostly vacant lots on Marshall and Roland streets for an adult education program, an alternative setting for students with behavioral issues or a parking lot.
At the time, many residents objected to the proposed purchase, saying it would interrupt the integrity of the area, which was once home for a majority of African American families.
The district declined to pursue the purchase of the land a block north of the high school.
However, Roland Street resident Patsy Johnson, who opposed the move in 2016 to purchase the land, said this move by the district is different because it would not be placing a school next to family-owned homes and forcing people out.
The tornado-damaged properties were mostly rental, and the owners are willing to sell, she said.
However, she is concerned with the overall access to affordable housing in the city and the loss of revenue from the tax rolls.
“I know expansion is needed in these areas, but there are ways to expand that don’t affect the housing as much,” Johnson said. “They need to start looking at that and figure out how to do as little damage as possible.
“When these institutions are able to buy up all these properties and not pay taxes, the citizens are the ones who end up having to pay out more taxes to make up for that money lost,” she said.