Kemper lease proposed

Sunday, September 21, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:01 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Friends of Kemper Foundation announced plans for leasing the Kemper Military School in Boonville. If the plan is accepted by the city of Boonville, the foundation hopes to reopen the school within the next two years.

The plan to lease, not buy, the school was announced at an alumni association banquet Saturday night. Steve Read, chairman of the foundation, said, “We feel the city is behind us. It’s our general impression that everyone wants to see Kemper reopen.”

In addition to leasing the property, the new plan will reduce the number of students needed to reopen the school and use only a few campus buildings at first, he said.

Read said the foundation has some money for the project but would not say how much it has or how much is needed for the project.

The foundation met with the Industrial Development Authority on Thursday evening to make its presentation.

Sarah Gallagher, economic development director for Boonville, said Saturday the plan seemed feasible. She said the authority was very receptive and positive towards it.

“I’m very convinced that they have a vision for what could be,” she said. “They have the potential, the vision and the open-mindedness to put together a plan for a cutting-edge model for education.”

Read said the foundation’s next step is to select a president and an administrative assistant for the school.

The president will have strong financial skills, a military and educational background and a passion for restarting the school, he said. Three interviews for the positions — either president or administrative

assistant — were already conducted this weekend. Candidates will be interviewed until a suitable match is found, Read said.

Gallagher said the foundation’s plan is not the only one being considered. Even if the school does reopen, there is still a possibility for joint usage of the property with other organizations and the city, she said. For example, Gallagher said, one of the barracks could be used for meetings, weddings or reunions.

At the banquet, Cindy Tang, a member of the Friends of Kemper board, said, “Our view is to capture what Kemper was.”

She said, the plan uses core values from the old Kemper and incorporates new ideas.

It considers the need to involve cadets in the Boonville community. “Kemper will not be an island on Third Street that no one can step onto,” Read said.

Some ideas for required community service hours are being formed.

Gallagher said she expects to hear from the Friends of Kemper about more definitive plans within the next six weeks.

Read said the board will present a proposal by Jan. 1, 2004, to the development authority, which the city has given the responsibility of reviewing ideas for using Kemper.

If the authority likes the plan, it will be presented to the city. Read said, “Friends of Kemper isn’t going to do this by itself. We need the city to understand our plan and accept us. The city is going to have to have confidence in us.”

The school filed for bankruptcy under chapter 11 in May 2002. Efforts to renew financial stability by increasing enrollment and donations were unsuccessful. The school closed May 31, 2002, shortly after graduating its 158th class.

The city of Boonville purchased the school’s buildings and grounds at a bank auction for $480,000 in early May 2003. The city purchased the property, in part, to retain control over Kemper’s future.

Founded in 1844, Kemper Military School was originally a one-room facility called Kemper Family School. The institution introduced military training in 1899 when it became Kemper Military School, the oldest military school west of the Mississippi.

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