A Devastating Fire

East entrance to the 1936 school – all that remains of the original building.

On the evening of July 28, 1990, heavy storms moved through Prairie Village and lightning struck the northwest corner of Prairie at roughly 8:00 p.m. The fire spread quickly and blazed uncontrollably until fire departments got it under control around 5:45 a.m. More than 50 firefighters fought the blaze.

The fire caused extensive damage less than a month before classes were scheduled to begin.

Large sections of the school were destroyed, but no injuries were reported. The library and some classrooms were the only areas saved from the fire.

Gary Lamons, fire prevention officer for the district, said because of the building’s age (built in 1936) it fell under codes that were written long before sprinkler systems became common, making it extremely vulnerable in a fire.The district worked feverishly to figure out where to place the 500 Prairie students scheduled to return to school in the fall. The Old Mission Junior High School in Roeland Park became a temporary home for these students while the site was excavated and rebuilding began. Linaweaver Construction, Inc. razed Prairie’s remaining structure but left the East entrance, which currently serves as an entryway to the courtyard of the current school.

In an effort to raise funds for the new building, Prairie planned a special event open the 1939 Time Capsule that was buried at the cornerstone of the building. This event was held on May 4th, 1991. Bricks that were salvaged from the original structure were decorated with a hand-stenciled logo donated by a local artist, Vicki Tramposh – slate from the room was also stenciled and sold. Prints of a pen and ink drawing of Prairie School were done by local artist, Gil Rumsey, and sold as well.

Inside the copper Time Capsule were class pictures, news clippings and remarks from Superintendent, Beth Moore, “May your district and Prairie School be as firm and lasting as the cornerstone which we are tonight laying.”

More than $37,000 was collected at the May 4th event, and an anonymous donor pledged an additional $10,000. 1,000 people showed up to be a part of the event.

The Shawnee Mission School District dedicated $5.2 million toward rebuilding, and the additional funds raised went toward a traditional wood gymnasium floor – a staple of the old school.

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1990, July 29: Bocchetti, Mark. “Blaze damages Kansas’ historic Prairie School.” The Kansas City Star. p. A-1, A-14

1991, April 24: Bessier, Elaine. “Time capsule to be opened.” The Sun Newspapers. 8A 1991

Interview, Margaret Eversull Emery, March 19, 2016