Belleville High School

Project: Belleville High School – Buffalo Apartments
Client: Pioneer Group, Inc.
Services by Spencer Preservation: Listing on the National Register of Historic Places and Application for Federal and State Historic Tax Credits
Investment: $2,400,000

During the droughts,  dust storms, and  economic challenges of The Great Depression, residents of Belleville, Kansas voiced their support of public education and confidence in the future by approving $115,000 in local bonds to finance construction of a new high school.  

The school is significant architecturally as an excellent representative of a Collegiate Gothic public school building, a high-style design built in a rural Kansas community in 1931.  The school embodies traditional characteristics of the Collegiate Gothic style with its red brick exterior and stone detailing, multiple gable roofs and pointed arches.  The design of the school reflects the latest trends in school planning with separate auditorium and gymnasium, and specialized classrooms for the manual training and domestic science departments.  Belleville High School is also significant as the work of Wichita architect S. S. Voigt, a talented designer specializing in church and school design.   

Belleville High School is a two-story Collegiate Gothic building located three blocks west of downtown Belleville.  The symmetrical front facade faces south and is defined by gabled projecting bays at the center and end bays.  The east facade provides access to the auditorium and the west facade to the gymnasium, each designed for separate use.  The Collegiate Gothic school is variegated red brick with an ashlar limestone foundation and detailing.  The building has a side-facing gable roof and truncated gable roofs on the rear-projecting auditorium and gymnasium wings.  The modest school building is nicely articulated with detailed features including projecting bays, pilasters, buttresses, and finely carved stone surrounds.  The building embodies typical characteristics of the Collegiate Gothic style including pointed arches, gabled dormers, and stone quoining.  Full-height window and entry surrounds provide vertical emphasis contrasting the rectangular massing. 

Completed in 1931, the school served the city of Belleville as their public high school for thirty-one years and then as a junior high and later, middle school for fifty-one years. After 82 years as a public school, the building was vacated by the school district following the 2012-2013 school year and sold to Ross Freeman (Belleville High School Class of ’57), a developer interested in converting the school to senior housing.

Freeman made a commitment to the school board that the gymnasium would remain available for public use.  The former classrooms, cafeteria, and portions of the auditorium will be converted to 24 senior apartments.  The project also includes a mix of ‘affordable’ and ‘market rate’ new housing construction on the school site to address the range of local housing needs. 

 Spencer Preservation listed the building on the National Register of Historic Places under the Historic Public Schools of Kansas Multiple Property Submission as a representative of the City High School property type.  She is working with the development team to achieve a successful rehabilitation project that was approved for federal and Kansas rehabilitation tax credits.   The project is nearing the commencement of construction with the team including Architect One and Woltkamp Construction of Topeka.  Completion is expected in late 2014.  

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