Ward Meade NIA wants city council to take action to reclaim deteriorating Sumner School

A Topeka Neighborhood Improvement Association soon will submit a resolution — which seeks to take the first step to halt the deterioration of the historic Sumner School — to the Topeka City Council.

 

On Thursday, the Ward Meade Neighborhood Improvement Association voted 24-0 to submit the resolution to the council.

“The Ward Meade NIA requests the city of Topeka to follow up on the city’s contract deed restrictions with Southside Christian Palace Church regarding their purchase of Sumner School with all deliberate speed,” the primary resolution said.

In a second resolution, the Ward Meade NIA voted that Deb Edwards, president of that NIA, should present the resolution to the city of Topeka.

Edwards said she “probably” would present the resolution to the city council in two weeks.

Sumner, 330 S.W. Western, was the all-white school in which third-grader Linda Brown attempted to enroll in 1951, eventually leading to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned state-sponsored segregation of public education.

Sumner was closed in 1996 and is owned by the Southside Christian Palace Church in Los Angeles.

The primary resolution asks the city to enforce the three deed restrictions imposed on the buyers when they obtained it eight-and-a-half years ago. The restrictions are:

  • That the buyer understands and agrees the Sumner property is subject to an historic preservation covenant and that it’s proposed use requires the consent of the Kansas State Historic Preservation Officer and might require the consent of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • That the building would have a visitor area commemorating the historic Sumner and Monroe Schools.
  • That the Ward Meade NIA would have a meeting space in the former school available to that organization.

Before they voted, NIA members generally noted the former school was deteriorating, was transforming into an eyesore and has “deadbeat property owners.”

Edwards noted the building has a cluster of drug houses surrounding it. Earlier in the meeting, members discussed strategies to pressure aggressive drug dealers out of the area.

“This is what we have allowed,” Edwards said.

Dawn Downing, the NIA’s secretary, said she wanted the owners of the former Sumner School to abide by the same rules she has to. Downing is working to improve her house, but the Los Angeles church isn’t doing the same with the former Sumner School.

Dick Blanton, the NIA’s code enforcement liaison, said the current owners have done nothing to improve the building, and the city should force them to sell the building.

“It is an embarrassment to the neighborhood,” said Aaron Edwards, an NIA member. He also is the son of Deb Edwards.

In the eight-and-a-half years they have owned it, they have failed to reach the very first step that is required, Aaron Edwards said. That step is to hire an architect to analyze the property, he said. Without that step, you don’t know how much it costs to fix the building, Edwards added.

On Thursday evening, many of the school windows were covered by weather-warped plywood, and a large piece of copper flashing was dangling off a brick tower.

Below the flashing was the “Sumner School” sign.

Contact reporter Steve Fry at (785) 295-1206 or @TCJCourtsNCrime on Twitter.

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