The former Kemper Military School campus will look a lot different when its alumni return to Boonville five years from now to celebrate the 180th anniversary of the school’s founding.
The changes were already apparent as Kemper alumni gathered for their annual reunion last weekend, marking 175 years since Frederick T. Kemper opened the boarding school that would become Kemper Military School. Alumni cooked, drank and reminisced just a few feet away from heavy machinery, parked for the weekend over piles of rubble that once formed a wing of the school’s K Barracks.
Boonville Mayor Ned Beach addressed the elephant on campus in his speech to the alumni assembled Saturday morning in the Library Learning Center after a changing of the school’s colors outside.
In a 459-303 vote in August, Boonville residents approved a ⅞-cent sales tax increase to raise $6 million from January through 2025 to renovate the former Kemper campus for the YMCA and the Boonslick Regional Library:A $1 million renovation of Johnson Field House, which houses the YMCA A $4 million renovation and expansion of Academic Hall, the smaller building to the right of the field house when looking from Third Street. Academic Hall would connect to Johnson Field House and the YMCA would use both buildings A $500,000 parking addition where K Barracks currently stand that allows the Boonslick Regional Library to move into the Library Learning Center, the central building on the Kemper campus $500,000 for engineering and design
The plan is to have the YMCA, the library and State Fair just steps away from each other. The YMCA expansion will create extra gym space for the community, and will also allow the organization to expand it’s childcare program.
“How many grandmas and grandpas are in the room that watch and cry at the number of kids that are on our streets, or that have nothing or no place to go after school, because their parents are all working swing shifts to take care of their families?” Beach asked. “We’re a small town, we’re seeing it here.”
Beach has been involved with filling the Kemper buildings since he was vice president of the city’s Industrial Development Authority board when the city bought the campus in 2003 after Kemper closed, he said. They struggled to market the campus as a whole but attracted State Fair Community College when they marketed individual buildings, he said.
State Fair initially rented the Library Learning Center and Science Hall from the city, but later consolidated into Science Hall, leaving the center available for the Boonslick library.
“As you can see by their building on Main Street, they take care of business,” Beach said.
The part of the plan that stuck out to many alumni was tearing down D Barracks to make way for the city’s long-term plan of extending Second Street behind the Kemper buildings. Some Kemper alumni felt the building could still be fixed up and used.
Demolishing K and D Barracks is separate from the new sales tax, and will be paid by existing city funds. The city has to remove asbestos from D Barracks before tearing it down, but it’s expected to be less expensive than abating K Barracks.
“It would be wonderful if we could save that building, but we can’t,” Beach said.
The city will pay for the projects as it collects the money from the sales tax, so it will still be several years before the projects are completed. As Kemper alumni return for their annual celebration, they’ll see the campus they knew slowly changing.