From a school to a community center: in use for 100 years

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It was in 1914 the first idea to build a new school building was conceived. In August 1916, that idea became a reality as the Concordia public school district first opened its doors at the corner of Southwest Eighth and South Gordon streets. The building is now used as the Concordia Community Center and houses the offices of Pioneer Trails Regional Planning Commission and the Region F Solid Waste District. It wasn't exactly an easy journey to get the school built in the beginning, however.

On Saturday, March 14, 1914 -- a Saturday -- a mass meeting was called by the board of directors of the then Concordia School District No. 97 in The Concordian. The directors requested the presence of all qualified voters to the Lyric Opera House for Saturday, March 14, 1912. The purpose of the meeting was to reorganize the district into a town district and to erect a new public school. At a special meeting of the board the Friday prior -- March 6 -- a proposition to build a new school building at Southwest Eighth and South Gordon streets failed.

Results of the mass meeting were published in The Concordian March 19, 1914. This time the proposition passed. The district was reorganized and voters approved a bond issue for $20,000 to build the school building. Factoring for inflation, $20,000 in 1914 would be $473,050 today.

The district reorganization meant there were six board members, with a rotation of two elected per year. While the district reorganized into a town district, its boundaries did not change.

According to Deanna Rehmsmeyer of the Concordia Area Heritage Society, there was a school at the site of the current community center, but it was operated out of a two-story house. The reorganization and building of a new school is what still stands today.

It would be approximately 19 months before construction started on the new building. It was built by Inman and Sprouse, of California, heating was provided by A. Holtman Heat and Power Co., of Kansas City, and plumbing work was done by W.A. Matricks, of Kansas City. Excavation work for the lower level of the building started the week of Sept. 6, 1915.

Then Concordian editor J.J. Bredehoeft said "the new building will become the pride of Concordia. It will be up-to-the-minute in every detail and having in mind the slogan 'Safety First.' It will be fireproof. The hall and stairway will be of concrete. The building will be covered by a tin roof," as shared by Rehmsmeyer in a letter.

"(The schoolhouse) was for both grades. It was for first through 12th grade," she noted in an interview. "Then in 1953, the new high school got built. So, all the older (students) -- I'd say freshmen through seniors.

The building was in use by the school district up until the construction of Concordia Elementary School at Southwest Fourth Street. Construction on the then school and now community center was completed in 1916, with plaster work being done in March of that year. It was finally able to open its doors Aug. 4. Prior to the completion of the building a 4-foot sidewalk was laid around the property's lot and an eight-foot sidewalk led to the building. At that time, however, streets in Concordia were still made of dirt.

With the construction of the new elementary school years later, the building was sitting empty. So, the city of Concordia purchased the building from the school district for $1.

"There was turmoil. 'What is it going to be, what is it going to be?' ... They decided we needed a community building and boy were they ever right, because the VFW hall was gone, which is where everybody went for their weddings and (other events)," said Rehmsmeyer.

The city had access to a grant in the 1990s, she added, which allowed for updates to the building's interior, including the construction of the kitchen, which was the old furnace room.

In 2000, the updates were fairly complete, noted Rehmsmeyer. The heritage society's museum took up residence in the building in 2003, she added, and scrapbooks are available from that year forward.

"(The community center) has been a jewel for the town. ... It was so needed. ... (It's) booked all the time. Then the crafts coming in during street fair. The building now is going to be repaired and the architect said it will last for another 20 years," said Rehmsmeyer.

She is also a member of the Concordia Community Center Committee established by the Concordia Board of Aldermen. The committee is working to get a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to construct a storm shelter on the land just behind the community center. An approximate population count will be taken during the fall festival, as part of the grant application process.

"The Concordia Community Building is still an asset to the town. My hope is to see it stand for many years to come," said Rehmsmeyer in her earlier letter.

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