Downtown Poplar Bluff

Poplar Bluff Schools acquires century-old building downtown
Posted on 08/25/2021
Dr. Scott Dill and John Scott stand in front of the district’s future Administrative Building in downtown.

Over the decades Poplar Bluff High School has moved northward, beginning where Junior High is now located, to Victory Lane, to its present-day campus on Oak Grove Road.

While the district has managed to stay ahead of the population drift at the secondary level, school leaders announced plans today to return to the city’s historic roots. 

Poplar Bluff Schools has closed on the former U.S. Bank branch building at 200 S. Main St. to relocate its Administrative Building downtown in the future and join revitalization efforts.

“The community has supported the school system in a big way over the years, and really this is just an amazing step in the right direction for our school system to kind of show that they are investing right back into the community, and being a frontrunner in getting things turned around for downtown,” said Steve Halter, Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce president. “Although we’ve made a lot of progress—when you have private investors with real money, and the city council pulling in the same direction and a city manager who gets it, and now you have the school system, which is one of the largest employers—this is just a huge leap forward for our community, and especially downtown.”

Over a century old, the 16,000-square-foot two-story facility will become the new headquarter for public Board of Education meetings, in addition to housing the district’s superintendent cabinet and support team. School officials are hopeful a community development block grant will be approved to construct a culinary arts facility on the Technical Career Center campus, otherwise the future home of the Mules Café will be determined.

“I can’t wait to see what you guys do to the building and how many more people will be downtown because of the new restaurants we have coming in and more bodies throughout the day, which means more tax revenue from people eating and shopping,” commented Morgan McIntosh, a multi-generational Poplar Bluffian who took over last year as executive director of Downtown Poplar Bluff, Inc. “I’m thrilled to death to see history be saved and preserved.”

According to the inspection report completed by a team of local architects and engineers, ground was broken on the neo-classical building in 1914 to begin operations as The Bank of Poplar Bluff the following year. The financial institution was sold to Mercantile Bank in 1985, and then Firstar Bank for just one year before U.S. Bank entered the picture in 2001. The property was placed on the market in 2019, reported the Daily American Republic, the structure’s Poplar Street neighbor.

“I really think it’s gonna be a big shot in the arm to the revitalization we’ve already seen up until this point, and I believe this investment by the school district is gonna inspire and give confidence to other businesses looking to invest in downtown,” said Matt Winters, who was also named city manager in 2020. “I feel it fits in well with our downtown zoning efforts to have a mix of restaurants and retail and office space available for folks.”

School officials have been in negotiations with the listing agent for several months. When R-I Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill first moved to Poplar Bluff in 2016, he said the “historic brick streets and magnificent architecture and edifices,” yet “lack of utilization” initially caught his attention. Of recent, he has gotten to witness a string of exciting renovations underway.

Toward the beginning of the year, the superintendent was getting a pair of shoes repaired at McNeely Shoe Service on Vine Street when he struck up a conversation with owners Beverly and Bennie Roach about property available. Dill left with “new eyes,” he recalled, and particularly an admiration for the “stature of the old bank in the downtown skyline.”

“The school district, much like an anchor store, provides the necessary gravity to stabilize the renovation of the downtown area; it just took the right time and right situation with the right Board of Education to move forward with this,” Dill stated. “As I travel the state and country, I have seen all of these municipalities do tremendous jobs restoring historic downtown areas, creating a regional draw, and the benefits for the community are widespread and pervasive.”

A complete remodel of the white bedrock stone building will include partial demolition of the drive-thru addition on the south side, a new floor plan layout, and other structural and mechanical upgrades identified. Once most departments vacate the office space at 1110 N. Westwood Blvd., Dill said he would initiate plans to utilize the present Administrative Building to "facilitate professional learning throughout the area to advance the primary work of the district."

“This investment in downtown is good for the district but great for the community,” school board president John Scott explained. “We are excited to join others in helping transform our downtown into a sustainable, vibrant and thriving area. As good stewards of taxpayer dollars, we are able to do this without borrowing a dime.”

The project follows on the heels of a multi-phased buildings plan, approved in a 2014 levy measure, which has effectively added over 245,000 square feet of classroom space across the district. Plans excluded the administrative offices until after the facility needs of all students, grades preK-12, were addressed, educators have noted.

“There will always be new needs; we’re just fortunate to be presented with this unique opportunity to engage in this once in a lifetime transaction,” Dill continued. “I believe at my core that this will be a legacy project for the school and people will still be reaping the benefits for generations, not only for the district, but the entire community.”

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Cutline: Poplar Bluff R-I Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill (left) and John Scott, Board of Education president, stand in front of the district’s future Administrative Building prior to closing on the historic property.

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