By Kathy Feist
After a string of fires at an abandoned school building in the past 18 months, the property owner has agreed to hire a patrolling service and demolition company.
North American Islamic Trust has hired Metro Public Safety to monitor the building and J.E. Dunn Construction for the eventual demolition, according to NAIT’s spokesperson, attorney Azam Nizamuddin.
The former Universal Academy Islamic School at 10515 Grandview Rd. has sustained damage from numerous fires in the past year and a half, including two as recently as July and August. According to KC Fire Department records, crews were sent to the location to fight fires on March 16, 2020, April 23, 2020, July 19, 2021 and August 20, 2021. All required assistance from surrounding fire stations. The building is not connected to any utilities and is under investigation for possible causes.
The 37,000-square-foot facility was built in 1957 as the Westridge Elementary School in the Hickman Mills School District. It served those families in the Birchwood Hills and Royal Oaks and St. Catherine’s Gardens neighborhoods.
In 1989, Universal Academy Islamic School was established at the location until 2014, when the school closed. What remained were desks, books, wall hangings, shelving and papers exactly as they were left in each room, as documented in Regina Daniels’ book Abandoned Kansas City.
After the first two fires, all contents in the building were moved to the gym, according to Birchwood Hills resident Tim Henry who photographed the gym during a February 5th visit this year.
In July, the fire consumed the south portion of the L-shaped building, leaving a charred shell. In August, the fire consumed the gym and all of its contents, creating a massive blaze that began soon after midnight and was wrapping up by daylight.
NAIT, which manages several mosques and Islamic schools around the country, had trouble paying back taxes on the property, according to John Baccala, spokesperson for the City of Kansas City, speaking on behalf of the Dangerous Buildings Department. On August 16, the property was scheduled to go up for sale on the county steps due to delinquent taxes, but the nonprofit organization paid what was owed prior to the sale.
The cause of the fire remains a mystery. Nizamuddin says the homeless or drug addicts are suspected, however, he’s unsure. “I can see a fire in January happening because it’s cold. People will light a fire to stay warm,” he muses. “But August just doesn’t make any sense.”
While neighbors also speculate, most are happy that the abandoned building is coming down. “It’s become a blight to the neighborhood,” says nearby resident Henry, who once sent his children to the school in the ’60s.