Beautifully constructed of native stone the engraved letters above the imposing doorway proudly proclaim "Dist 14 School." Two stories tall with large windows it has an airy look of strength. Strong enough to withstand the Kansas wind, winter snow or maybe even a tornado, all of which it has proudly born for more than 70 years.
What it couldn't withstand was un-use and lack of care. Obviously someone is trying as there is a tall ladder leaned against the front of the building and new steel panels on the flat roof, some in place and some ready to install. The grass around it is tall and the few remaining landscaping shrubs look old and tired.
The grand old building at Traer is a monument to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Works Progress Administration," WPA .The US economy was in the throes of the 1930s depression. Jobs were few and people were desperate for honest work. The elite in charge of the government envisioned that if they borrowed money and showered it down onto the common man, prosperity would return and a grateful public would vote to return benevolent politicians to office.
In 1938 Traer had a fine new school. However in a few years the town and surrounding rural population decreased and it became cheaper to send the students to Herndon. The fine overbuilt monument to the WPA closed and the ravages of time have taken their toll.
In the same era the WPA built a fine new Memorial Auditorium in McCook. That grand building has been a center of community activities, dances when the McCook Air Base was active, high school basketball games, graduations, plays, concerts, musicals, and the National Guard Armory and for years it held the city offices. The high school built its own gym, concerts are moving to the Fox Theatre, and shortly the city offices will move across the street to new digs. Will our wonderful old Memorial Auditorium, built with borrowed money by the WPA, join in abandonment with her sister facility just 16 miles away in Traer, Kansas?
Old buildings and what to do with them? McCook's original YMCA building, sold when the new facility was built, began to fall into a sad state of disrepair. In my role of County Commissioner I was in the process of making plans to demolish it and turn the lot into parking for the courthouse employees. A private company stepped forward, purchased the sound old 1926-era building and converted it into nice apartments. Great result.
West Ward School is demolished and a nice municipal facility with parking is abuilding. The National Guard Armory is being reworked to become useful to the school system. East Ward building is being remodeled; face lifted and landscaped into low income housing and promises to become a wonderful much needed community asset.
The Keystone Hotel on the way to becoming derelict was infused with a great amount of free government money and has become a real showplace.
The Fox Theatre next door is being remodeled and uplifted with private money and donations, promises to be an entertainment center for downtown McCook. The Carnegie Library building across the street soldiers on somewhat in its original role, only now as a museum.
Now the big blight, the large building with broken windows, boarded up openings, unkempt grass and weeds. Yes the now abandoned St. Catherine's Hospital building. It was sold to a private entity when the new Community Hospital was built. Remodeled into apartments it served the lower income segment of society for years. Now closed, it is rapidly falling into disrepair. The out of state owner tried to donate the building to the city with the idea of taking a large tax write-off.
Wisely the city didn't take the bait. Surely the city is petitioning the owner to keep the building in repair but they have little leverage. Probably in the end, the city will have to step in to demolish the entire complex in the interest of public safety. There promises to be little return for a large expenditure of our tax money.
What will happen to the present day fire and police station when those entities move to the combined new municipal building? How about the old county jail now housing the sheriff's department. What will happen to it when the new county jail and sheriff's offices are built? If there are plans for those buildings the public hasn't been informed.
The same public that most likely will be paying the bill for their disposal or reuse.
Part of the problem is intrinsic to our system of government. Persons elected to power tend to make decisions within a short time frame.
Then after many years if a decision turns bad those politicians are long gone and suffer little. A private owner sees his building as an asset and is interested in the long term. The private owner usually doesn't have the crutch of tax money to fall back on which also tends toward better outcomes. As always it is interesting to watch even when painful to the pocket book.
Yesterday's Gazette had a short column noting that passenger boardings out of McCook's airport were at a five year low. I thought it a bit ironic to read the piece when I had just returned from taking my son to North Platte to board a flight on the same airline. Don held a long time reservation to fly out of McCook but for some unshared reason the flight cancelled. Flights cancelled boardings down.
Might there be a connection? Duh!
That is the way I saw it.