What’s next for Kettering’s historic former high school building? Officials are considering its future

Kettering City Schools officials are trying to decide whether to demolish or renovate the historic Barnes building at 3750 Far Hills Ave., one year shy of the former high school’s 90th anniversary.

District officials recently approved a plan to move their administrative offices from the Barnes building to an office complex about a half-mile east on Lincoln Park Boulevard near Fraze Pavilion, likely in 2019. But the old building also houses alternative high school classes, some special education programs, adult literacy and GED efforts and the district’s warehouse.

“At this point, the Barnes building has not been totally decided on,” Kettering schools Superintendent Scott Inskeep said this week. “We’re not sure about the transition for our alternative education kids and transition kids. Eventually the Barnes building will have to be decided upon, whether it will be razed, or renovated and kept.”

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The school was built in 1929 as Van Buren Twp.’s new high school, before Kettering was a city. In the 1950s, when the current Fairmont High School opened, the Far Hills Avenue building was changed into Dwight L. Barnes Junior High School, named after the first principal of the school building, who went on to become superintendent.

Today, it is the home of the board of education and top administrators, including Inskeep and several department directors and their staff. It is also a community fixture on a busy street, holding the grandstand for the annual Holiday at Home parade on Labor Day and backing up to the large football stadium.

In 2016, when school officials were campaigning for a facilities levy, their 10-year capital plan listed the “minimum required updates” to the Barnes building at $7 million. But Inskeep said this week that newer estimates are much higher.

“We were told to renovate the Barnes building, just for the basics — and that would be roofing, HVAC, to make it safe, secure and dry — it was between $10 million and $12 million,” he said. “We were considering modifying it to house preschool, and that was showing up at $17-20 million, and I think those numbers are low. Until they really get into it, I don’t think they’re sure what’s going to happen.”

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Director of Business Services Ken Lackey said last year that the Barnes building was the only facility that was not significantly renovated after residents approved the 2002 bond issue. At one point, the building was considered a possible home for expanded preschool, or all-day kindergarten, which Inskeep said is a district priority.

Lackey said a study by an outside firm estimated that $17.5 million would be needed to renovate the Barnes building, and that might jeopardize the projects school officials are trying to get done. The renovation price tag precipitated the move by school officials to move their administrative offices out of the historic Barnes building into space near Fraze Pavilion by next year.

“We felt that if we invested the $17.5 million in renovating the Barnes building, then we would not have the ability to complete the other projects we wanted to get done following the passage of the 2016 levy,” he said.

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Those projects include an addition at the high school to house more career tech programs, building additional classrooms and auditoriums at secondary schools and all-day kindergarten programming.

School officials have approved the 10-year lease for the spaces in the 500 building and 580 building in Lincoln Park that will involve the relocation of central offices, central enrollment and food service. The leases will cost $480,000 per year.

Healthcare Trust of America will be the district’s landlord in the new space, and Lackey said that the cost of any upgrades needed to the two buildings are built into the lease.

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