QuickStory: Coultrap Appears Ready to Fall

At a public forum Monday, evidence mounts against the possible adaptive reuse of the historic building that once was Geneva's high school.

At about 6:35 p.m. Monday, the death knell might have rung for the former Coultrap school.

A School Board vote still has to be taken in two weeks, but at Monday's public forum, you could almost hear the building crumbling under the weight of the mounting evidence that it's too old, too far gone and too expensive for any sort of adaptive reuse.

The cost to maintain it "as is"? More than $1.6 million, including roof repairs, asbestos abatement, plumbing, tuckpointing and annual utility costs of $69,000.

Leasing the facility? At least $1 million for necessary upgrades.

Projected cost to renovate for occupancy by students? $15.7 million—conservatively.

Creative solutions?

The district took a look at moving the Fox Valley Career Center from its home in the Kaneland School District. The cost of labs, shops and classrooms would be prohibitive.

A freshman campus or kindergarten center? See that $15.7 million above.

Hold under a preservation trust? Only if a group or individual could form an organization and raise funds. No one's stepped forward.

Mothballing the building? Way more expensive than you might think.

Following the rundown of all the options, Director of Facility Operations Scott Ney offered a PowerPoint presentation, and slide after slide showed the degree of disrepair. 

Exposed wires, rusting pipes, leaky roofing, a valve that caught on fire in one of the former classrooms, split vent pipes, decayed tuck pointing, mortar dropping away from the brick, rust on steel windows, failing plaster, blistering paint, asbestos tiles—the list went on and on.

School Board President Mark Grosso said it was time to make a decision.

"The easy thing to do would be to kick the can down the road," he said. "But this is something I talked about when I ran in 2009. I think it’s this board’s responsibility to deal with the issue and let the chips fall where they may."

"We have been in touch with the city. We have intergovernmental meetings with them every quarter. I think the public in Geneva has been well aware of the Coultrap situation since '08 and '09—and especially the last eight months. It seems like every time we have one of these meetings, it ignites some interest in it, but (no solutions.) The question is, 'How we are going to reduce our expenses?' "

Former School Board President Mary Stith:

"This was a sword I was willing to fall on," she said, regarding an option to move the district's administrative offices from Fourth Street to the Coultrap facility. "We should have our administration nearby a functioning (school) building. But with Coultrap, it's been one thing after another. ... Our operations and maintenance people, they’ve told us, 'We can’t keep up with Coultrap.' "

School Board member Mike McCormick:

"I’ve looked at this 15 ways to Sunday," he said. "Geneva’s a special place, and I understand the historical implications here, but the numbers just don’t work. We don’t have a big pool of resources to keep paying for it."

The cost to demolish the building is about $862,000.

Feedback and comments from the public were about 45 percent for preservation and 55 percent for demolition through the end of 2012. In the past week, e-mails have been "99 percent in favor of demolition," Grosso said.

Selling the property is not an option the board wants to consider, Grosso said. The consensus among board members is that the district should hold onto the land, in case the high school needs to expand at some later date—even if it's 10, 15 or 20 years down the road.

A handful of residents spoke in favor of preserving the building, but the audience size and the public outcry were nowhere near as large or as loud as they were during hearings about possible demolition of the former Pure Oil building.

Gloria Campbell, who attended the school for three years, reminded the board of what happened to the former Swedish Lutheran Church, which fell to demolition.

"That makes me sick to my stomach," she said. "(The attitude:) 'Oh well, it’s old. We let it go too long and too far, and there’s nothing we can do.' "

Colin Campbell suggested forming a task force made up of School District, city of Geneva, Public Library and others to come up with a creative solution or "downtown shuffle," perhaps moving City Hall to Coultrap and expanding the library into City Hall. He said that solution might result in "much less cost to the taxpayer overall in the long run."

"Give us a chance to explore all these possibilities together, after the April election," he said.

When Grosso reiterated that those options had been explored, Campbell saw the writing on the wall. "You’ve made up your minds; I understand that," he said.

At the end of the forum, Geneva History Center Executive Director Terry Emma said she voted for the referendum that called for construction of Williamsburg Elementary School in part because Coultrap was to be preserved and reused.

"(Now) I see what’s going to happen, which makes me sick," she said.

She invited residents to a Feb. 12 brown bag lunch at the History Center, where the topic will be the history of the Coultrap building. She asked permission to go through the building so that pieces of it could be archived.

"I think we need to celebrate this building, celebrate the memories," she said.


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Sue J January 16, 2013 at 12:26 PM
Jacob, The BOE never addressed the classes over at Mooseheart. Have you made your suggestions to the BOE? I agree with you about the traffic. Both of my kids attended Coultrap when it was a grade school. It can't be anymore busier than that. Probably the neighbors are used to the reduced traffic since the building hasn't been operational for a few years. Please anyone that is interested in the BOE to really investigate a re-use please write the BOE. At the meeting they claim that 99% of the letters they have received in the last week was for demolition.
Sue J January 16, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Jacob, It was a very brief overview not even a discussion I would say. I am very disappointed how this whole thing is going down. They felt that any type of renter they would not get in would not offset the cost of the repairs. Yes, maybe not in the short run (1 to 3 years) but I presumed it would be a long term renting scenario.
Kathy January 17, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Just sell it ALL off -- we don't need the land or the buildings, and if there ever is any growth it won't exceed the projections from the padded referendum! Real estate is not an investment the district needs to protect or maintain. Certainly no need to demolish anything -- sell it as is! If the History Center wants to buy it, let them!
Kevin Brouillette January 30, 2013 at 12:36 AM
I agree with that, the district should have invested in this building for the past 50 years instead of focusing solely on throwing away old construction and building something new.


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