Last evening, Jan. 14, the Geneva School Board hosted a public meeting regarding the fate of the Coultrap school building on Peyton Street. I was disappointed that the public comment portion only accommodated a few public comments, and I was not able to get a turn at the lectern. Unfortunately, travel kept me from attending the two previous public meetings in June of last year.
As it stands, the demise of the Coultrap building seems imminent. The board spoke with seeming unanimity that the numbers for maintenance and/or renovation were unworkable and would burden the taxpayers unduly were it left standing. It is not the purpose of this missive to challenge or vet/deconstruct those numbers (others will do that), but rather to make sure every possibility has been considered by the Board and the community to save an unambiguously historic structure.
Long ago, the Board expressed interest in moving their offices from the Fourth Street school into the larger Coultrap facility on Peyton Street. On it’s surface, it seems like the perfect solution.
- The Board gets needed additional space adjacent to an active school
- A historic building is repurposed.
- The Board retains control of the Peyton Street property for future expansion of the high school.
- The similarly historic Fourth Street school is sold and redeveloped as residential. This is a municipal planning goal that would benefit downtown business vitality. Indeed, some time ago, the Historic Preservation Commission reviewed a conceptual plan expanding the building east for condominiums.
Unfortunately, the numbers that a School Board committee came up with were unfavorable for that solution. It would take (per the Board) an estimated $2.3 million to $4.3 million dollars to refurbish the Coultrap building to function as new district offices and the [unspecified] market value of Fourth Street would not cover that expense.
One of the options that the School Board was hoping for is that the community would rise to the task and raise funds for a “preservation trust” that would cover the ongoing expenses of maintaining the Coultrap building. That grass roots effort never materialized. That doesn’t surprise me since such a trust would typically be directed at assuming ownership for its own repurposing or marketing to buyers motivated to preserve the structure. An open-ended commitment for covering ongoing expenses on behalf of the School Board wouldn’t seem too terribly attractive to … well … anyone.
Here I would like to run up the flagpole an option that might not have been considered by the community at large.
If, as the Board said some time ago, that the ideal solution would be to move School District offices to Coultrap; what if a preservation trust were created that would bridge the gap between the market value of Fourth Street school and the renovation cost of Coultrap? ...or at least making it a plausible option. This would give the School Board the offices they want in the location they want and would free up Fourth Street for sale and redevelopment. That redevelopment would be under the purview of the Historic Preservation Commission so as to protect the historic Fourth Street school (where my own grandmother attended school as a child).
I would envision that Fourth Street would be redeveloped as multi-family residential. This would dovetail nicely into contemporary municipal planning “best practices” by placing more “rooftops” in close proximity to our downtown retail districts benefiting the entire city. Of course adjacent property owners would have to be considered with regards to traffic but, given the historical uses as a school and pre-school, it would seem residential traffic would be appreciably less than the area has seen in the past.
I admit to knowing nothing about fundraising for such an effort. So this is my call the public: If a group with expertise in coordinating these sorts of efforts could assemble and step forward for the goal of saving two historic structures and boosting the downtown vitality, wouldn’t we all win? ...or am I just a dreamer?