Historic Kemper Administration Building Sparking Debate

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BOONVILLE - Danny Hammack was just twelve years old the first time he walked into the Kemper Administration Building.

He says the military academy changed his life. 

"It helped mold me into a successful young man," he said. "It taught me to work, care, and focus on other people."

A few weeks ago, nearly two decades after Hammack's arrival, the city of Boonville filed for permits to demolish the building.

Hammack doesn't want to see it go.

"It's my home. It means a lot to me. It'd be like anybody getting their home that they grew up in bulldozed," he said. "And not just mine, but thousand(s) of alumni that helped shaped and defined their lives."

The former Cadet Corp Commander graduated from the military academy known by many as "The West Point of the West" in 2002 as a part of Kempers last class, but still has strong feelings for the school.

"Every single day of my life is defined by Kemper," he said.

The approximately 50-acre site includes seven buildings, but many have been parceled out or left to rot.  The YMCA had an agreement with Kemper before it closed to occupy the gym, State Fair Community College occupies what was formerly known as Math Hall, but the rest of the campus has been steadily deteriorating.

The campus includes multiple grassy fields in the back, which are home to Boonville youth soccer and baseball games.

Observers say the administration building is the worst. Silence creeps upon walkers passing the red-brick building, which features a rusted cellar door in the front, collapsed cement rain wells, and a hazard sign thats metal edges are slowly folding. Broken bricks lay strewn throughout the grass at the foundation of the building. 

The only objects still thriving are the green bushes in the front. 

After the school filed for bankruptcy in 2002, the administration building began to deteriorate due to the lack of owners.

Today, visitors are unable to go inside the red brick building as a result of caved-in roofs, broken floorboards, and shifting walls. A chain-link fence prevents people from getting into the courtyard behind the building which features other Kemper buildings like "D" Barracks and Harvey Hall ("A" Barracks). 

But, animals and homeless people were getting in which caused the city of Boonville, the site's current owner, to put plywood over windows and doors. Most of the windows not boarded have been shattered and many gape empty without any glass, and there are holes where the roof doesn't meet the brick.

That's not all. One of the building's two brick turrets fell a while ago because of the poor foundation. No one was hurt when it fell. 

Mold and asbestos line the inside of the building as well, but water infiltration caused the interior collapses. 

Patrick Earney is a structural engineer for Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw, Inc. and says he advised people to stay out after walking through the more than 150-year-old building.

"Old buildings don't scare me. I go in buildings that are in pretty advanced states of deterioration, but that building I actually made everyone that was with me leave," he said.

"There's a wall in the center that supports a stair between the two additions and there was a place where it had displaced about four inches out of plane."

Earney says that although the building may be structurally unstable, safety should not be a concern for those walking outside the fences near the building.

"It's not going to fall. I would not go in it or around it," he said. "It'd be more likely it'd fall in on itself."

Boonville Ward Three Councilman Ned Beach voted for demolition and says it could cost millions to repair the building. One of the first things they'd have to do is work to save the front corner of the building.

"I think the quote was $388,000," he said. "That is not renovated. It just stabilizes it."

Beach says demolition could cost the city close to $600,000.

Laura Gramlich is the vice president of the Kemper Alumni Association and says the association created three repair projects for the crumbling building.

"One would be to shore up the foundation of the building to make it to where it is no longer a dangerous building," she said. "The next would be to raise enough money to restore the most historical part and then the third would be enough to raise and redo the whole building."

Gramlich says she doubts its possible to do all three.

"I think the first two, shoring up the foundation or the most historical part, but you never know with our alumni. They're very passionate about Kemper and it's up to them as to what they want to see done with it."

Although Beach voted for demolition, he admires the association's drive.

"They're good people, they're smart people and they want to save it," he said. "You have to accept their passion. We're talking alumni that spent many years here. They care about the place."

Gramlich was one of the people who spent many years on campus and says that saving the building would actually be economical for the city.

"Alumni come in every year just to come back and see the campus," she said. "That brings in money from hotel visits. They spend money in Boonville going out to eat, they like to shop at some of the shops that were here when they went to school."

Gramlich and the alumni association hope to build a museum in the building and use it for other educational purposes.

Hammack agrees and says that if the association raises enough money a museum would be appropriate.

"Thousands of Kemper cadets would love to come back and be able to walk through a museum and be able to see our history on display," he said. "I think there's a ton of history."

Beach says that if demolition occurs, the land will most likely be converted into a park.

"There's no decisions on that, but yes it would become a grassy field. There would probably be a memorial to this building, but it would basically be a park," he said.

"There will be something there to memorialize it."

Hammack says a memorial isn't enough.

"I kind of think a memorial would be second rate," he said. "Kemper's a relic. It's the second oldest military school west of the Mississippi."

The alumni association has about a year to raise the funds to save the administration building or the home to so many cadets between seventh grade and college will disappear forever.