Education leaders are offering assurances regarding insurance, that is, the campus of American Family Group and its use as a future high school.
Tami Pasley of the St. Joseph School District Board of Education joined Dr. Doug Van Zyl on Monday to unveil SJSD’s keen interest in acquiring the AmFam corporate regional headquarters in the 4800 block of Mitchell Avenue, immediately south of the campus of Missouri Western State University.
“We’re proud supporters of K-12 education in the region, and the St. Joseph School District in particular,” said Dr. Elizabeth Kennedy, university president. “We have been working with them to strengthen our many partnerships ... Certainly, having a school located nearby would provide more opportunities to do just that.”
The superintendent of schools said the idea just makes practical sense.
“The current space along with some additions could be converted into a 21st-century learning space that would meet the needs of our students in grades 9-12,” he said.
No information as to a sale or lease price is available, but the company confirmed Thursday it will dispense with the building in the immediate future, as employees will be working from home indefinitely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Building decisions do not affect employment in St. Joe. We have been and will continue to be a strong employer in St. Joe,” said Janet M. Masters, spokeswoman for AmFam Group. “When the building is sold or leased, any office space that is needed for employees will be acquired at that time.”
The project is contingent on the approval of a $107 million bond by at least 57.15% of the electorate casting ballots in the Tuesday, April 6 Missouri Municipal General Election, in which three school board seats will also be filled.
“I would say the pandemic has changed a lot of things, and especially those types of businesses who work out of office buildings,” Pasley said. “Maybe it is that American Family no longer needs a space that large ... So I think it’s a win-win for both the district and for American Family.”
Van Zyl explained the “roughly 92-acre” campus, which has been built on since AmFam Group established a corporate presence in St. Joseph in 1957, is ideal because the main building has more than 250,000 sq. ft. available and will require limited structural work. The interior is another matter; AmFam Group has not yet completed the finishing of more than one floor. That leaves certain opportunities.
“Saving taxpayer dollars, that’s a big ticket item here,” Pasley said. “Because, we already have a structure, or structures, in place, and parking lots already in place, and a lot of things that will save us money. Money that we will be able to use on other things that the district, or the district desperately needs.”
The move announced Monday opens the final chapter of a five-year journey. The hope for district leaders is that SJSD will wind up with two high schools, and fewer buildings overall, with Central High School renovated and Benton and Lafayette high schools repurposed.
“I still visit with stakeholders who would rather keep the three school system,” she said. “And in my conversations with them, I try to get them to understand the data. The fact that our board is basing our decisions on data and not politics, not emotions, and we just have to eventually come to a school model.
“Most definitely, to get our kids into the 21st century, we have to do something with our buildings.”
The St. Joseph City Council voted unanimously to have customers pay a processing fee for most electronic payments and not just credit cards, as the previous ordinance stated.
When someone pays bills electronically with a credit card or check, there is usually a small processing fee. For years, the city has been paying those fees for city customers.
In December, the city decided to stop absorbing processing fees for online debit and credit card payments, which placed the cost on customers. The city said this would save about $400,000 to be used for other services.
However, other online payments, like electronic checks, were not included. On Monday the council voted to include those other methods.
“Obviously, if there’s costs involved in transacting those, we need to look at that,” said councilman Marty Novak. “When you start talking $300-400,000 in costs in order to make that happen, we need to look at how we can recoup that, because not everybody pays their bills that way. If you pay your bill with a regular check it’s not going to affect you.”
To avoid those processing fees, customers can mail a check, pay in person at city hall with a check or cash or set up automatic recurring credit card payments online.
Other notable bills and resolutions that passed:
Two resolutions totaling $500,000 were approved unanimously by the council. These funds will be used by Community Action Partnership of Greater St. Joseph and Catholic Charities for rent, mortgage and utility assistance.
City Manager recruitment
St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray sponsored a bill to allocate $30,000 for recruitment costs of the city manager position. These costs include moving and relocation expenses. Councilman Kent O’Dell amended the bill to reduce the amount to $10,000. The new amount was approved unanimously by the city council.
The council unanimously voted to prohibit parking on the east side of Leonard Road from Hunter Drive south about 500 feet. Councilman Madison Davis was concerned this would just create parking problems on the west side of the street and recommended prohibiting parking on both sides of the street. This proposition must go through the Traffic Commission before it can be voted on by the city council.
The St. Joseph Community Alliance has sent out their most recent Community Survey. The council voted 6 to 3 to allocate about $3,000 for this survey. Councilmembers who voted against said they were worried the pandemic would skew some of the results.
Local health officials are asking the state to host a mass vaccination site in St. Joseph at the community vaccination clinic.
As of now, the clinic at the East Hills Shopping Center is receiving about 1,500 COVID-19 immunizations a week, and a mass vaccination site would add to that total.
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services officials have said the mass vaccination sites staffed by the National Guard are designed to be for rural areas.
“The state does not want our county to have a mass vaccination clinic because they feel that is too much,” said Debra Bradley, St. Joseph Health Department director.
As of Monday, 8% of Buchanan County residents had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The state has passed a million total doses given and has 11.5% of the population vaccinated with a first dose.
Bradley said she is working with other providers and health departments to take vaccines that those agencies are unable to use and get them to the community clinic at the mall. She said the clinic could easily vaccinate 1,000 people a day.
“I’ve been very clear to all the health departments that should they pass it (vaccination allotments), please know it will be accepted in St. Joe so that we can push it into the community clinic,” Bradley said.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said he expects the states supply of vaccines to increase come March when the Johnson & Johnson version of the immunization is approved.
The Johnson & Johnson shot is a one-dose vaccine and is set to be reviewed by the FDA on Friday.
Bradley said the health department has not received any additional information about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine other than it may be used for underserved individuals. She said that the vaccination clinic has been great for the city and the only thing that is holding it back is supply.