|City/Town: • Topeka|
|Location Class: • School|
|Year Built: • 1910 | Year Abandoned: • 1964|
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered|
|Photojournalist: • Emily Cowan|
Before even being built Van Buren School was already experiencing trouble. Board members argued about the street on which the school would be built and as well as funds to start construction. Some worried the disagreement over location would cause some members to delay the construction but board member C.F. Hardy said this, “If anybody is sore, I don’t know who it is. I shall still oppose the building of the school with no funds to start with, however, and I don’t like the idea of the building on only ten lots. We ought to have more.” But alas a few months later the project was underway for the new all-white Van Buren School. Architects J.C. Holland & Son were set to work on the $35,000, three-story, ten-room brick school. The outer foundations and such of the school were completed in 1910, by February of 1911 the roof had been completed allowing work on the inside to commence. W.W. Gilmore was hired to put in the sidewalks and drill grounds costing around $757.71, which would cost approx. $20,308.30 in today’s money.
Completed just in time for the new school year to start, it wasn’t until October 23, 1911, that the newly built school opened for an informal gathering allowing the community to inspect the inner workings of their children’s new learning facility. Principal Ethel McCartney, members of the Board of Education, and teachers from Van Buren and surrounding schools gathered to admire the newly built structure. Around 180 children were enrolled the first year it opened. The new school came equipped with 10 recitation rooms, a large assembly hall, a teacher’s room, and an engine room in the basement.
Janice Harper Sann (1950-56) reminisced, “We had a nice auditorium and at Christmas, we always did our program by lining up on the steps going to the 2nd floor and singing our standard Christmas songs of “Silent Night”, Joy To The World, We Three Kings” etc. We had a tree in every room and we all got Christmas candy. My favorite games at recess were four square and tetherball and I was very good at them.”
“Do all the good you can in all the ways you can to everyone you can.” was the motto instilled in Van Buren’s K-8th grade students. In 1919 students could participate in soccer, pass ball, volleyball, orchestra, home economics, art class, were organized which was an impressive amount of activities.
The Van Buren met its demise like many other schools abandoned in Topeka. After the Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board involving the Sumner Elementary School many schools were ordered to close and consolidate in order to appease racial imbalance within the schools. Van Buren had a minority rate of 40% at the time of its closing in 1964.
“I went to Van Buren from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. I remember the first day of school like it was yesterday. Mrs. Kipling was our 3rd-grade teacher, and she told us her husband was related to the poet Rudyard Kipling. I remember we had just come back from lunch and were on the playground out front (we walked home for lunch back then) when one of our classmates told us that President Kennedy had been shot. I remember the principal coming into the classroom after we had gotten settled, and quietly whispering to Mrs.Kipling. After he left, she told us that the president had died. Time has passed so quickly now that I look back. Kindergarten was 60 years ago. I can’t believe it.” said former student (1960-1964) Sunya Williams Folayan.
After uses for the building included being added onto Topeka Unified School District 501 as an audiovisual center, storage for the Kansas State Archives, and lastly house Kansas Surplus Exchange. Kansas Surplus Exchange is a Kansas Non-profit Clearinghouse for charitable organizations, recycling surplus equipment, and supplies.
In 2017, the abandoned Van Buren school was appraised at $63,700. The city had proposed to sell it for $1 to a buyer that would take on the hefty and expensive task of repurposing the school. The expensive for city officials to demolish it would be expensive, around $350,000 expensive thanks to the sheer amount of asbestos riddled throughout the entire building. Now an even bigger issue has come to light, all the floors have fallen in on each other. The building continues to sit in an uncertain limbo waiting for someone do notice it once again.
Special thanks to Tina Douglas, Janice Harper Sann, and Janice K Arnold for their donation of photos.