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.”