Sale of Rising Star, parks department contribution boosts tennis court project

The ball has now returned to the court of the Platte County R-3 Board of Education.

The future of the district’s tennis facility received a boost Tuesday, July 19 during a pair of meetings. First, the Platte City Board of Aldermen’s economic development subcommittee favorably recommended a memorandum of understanding to purchase Rising Star Elementary and the accompanying 6.9 acres of land. Later, the Platte City Parks and Recreation board members unanimously voted to contribute up to $117,500 to fund an additional two courts to the active project during a special meeting.

The Platte County R-3 board meets Thursday, July 21 and will likely take action to initiate a change order, taking the tennis facility project from four courts in a first phase to the desired final project of eight courts.

In a span of about four months, Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik went from announcing the start of a phased project with an indefinite timeline to finding additional funding sources to help expand the project. The Platte County Tennis Court Committee, a grassroots group pushing the project, made a presentation at the June board of education meeting, but policy prohibited the board from voting on an item brought from citizen participation, which led to some perceived frustrations. 

District officials and community supporters met in an open forum the next week, which produced some occasionally contentious discussion.

However, both groups agreed to attend the most recent parks and recreation meeting, which prompted the board to propose the donation. Shortly after, Reik and Platte City city administrator DJ Gehrt ramped up talks in mutual interest of the Rising Star Elementary site.

The memorandum of understanding shows the city plans to pay $82,500 for the Rising Star site with that money going toward tennis court construction. The district would then pay approximately $40,000, in addition to its initial commitment, to complete the project.

“How often do two government entities agree to something in a week?” Reik rhetorically asked of how quickly the deal will come together.

The full eight courts could be completed by this fall, while additional amenities, including lights and bleacher seating, would be added at a later date. 

Reik said leveraging the contractors already on site combined with the potential of high estimates for the additional pieces of the project made using the change order process cost-effective. He also said there were no concerns with the purchase price of Rising Star Elementary, which closed its doors for good after this past school year.

The school site is optimal for continued public use.

The memorandum of understanding means the district and city will work in good faith to complete the sale. The initial language indicates the city would take the property as is, including the main building an adjacent trailer building. The school would likely be demolished with the district and city proposing to split the cost of removing any hazardous material.

“We knew that Rising Star property at some point — good ,bad or indifferent — was probably going to be a city problem,” Gehrt said. “I’d rather it be a city opportunity.”

Originally called Platte City Elementary, the building opened in 1954 and slowly underwent a series of changes eventually becoming Rising Star — the district’s kindergarten only facility for the past 14 years.

Rising Star sits on the south side of Highway 92 and sits adjacent to current city property that houses municipal court and the parks and recreation offices. The site has been mentioned as a possible future location of a new water park in Platte City, which closed its municipal pool last summer.

“There’s value in executing this transaction with what we would consider a responsible developer,” Reik said. “They will develop that land in a way that benefits the community.”

Platte County started its boys and girls tennis programs for the 2008-2009 school year as it moved from the Midland Empire Conference to the Suburban Conference. 

Without true home facilities, the district used two dilapidated courts in disrepair on campus and also began renting two courts for designated practice time in the Seven Bridges subdivision at a cost of about $1,000 per year. Still, the setup required split practices, and home meets are either played on the road or at Oak Park High School, as nearby school’s facilities are available.

This past spring, the R-3 school board approved plans to demolish the district’s two courts to put in a new parking lot.

Grant funding, private donations and donated work/materials from contractors on site working on other projects allowed the district to announce the construction of four tennis courts, south of Siegrist Elementary. The district planned to use about $174,000 in non-tax revenue to fund the remainder of the first phase, expected to cost about $600,000 — up from initial estimates.

Reik repeatedly pledged support for getting the facility to eight courts, but he stressed the opportunity to continue leveraging future grant money to phase in the project. A push from the community asked for the project to be expanded to allow for better practice time and home meets immediately.

Parks board members took up the discussion again at the end of their meeting, eventually settling on contributing the full amount for two courts from its current fund balance of about $1.6 million. The donation helped solidify an ongoing relationship with the school district that could give the city priority use of the facility when the district is not using it.

This could include summer programming, partnerships with Platte County Community Center North or tournaments.