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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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Elmer Elmer January 15, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Of course they will tear down the school, that is what the fascist leader of the school board wants, so the decision is already made.
Rudy January 15, 2013 at 01:04 PM
Sad because in 2 or 3 years they will expand the high school or build a New building and guess what people those builds require brick, mortar, pipes, floor tiles, roofing too. You thinks its expensive to keep up an older building compared to what? Building a new building. I hope you DO NOT plan on building a NEW building or expanding a current strucrture for at least 10 to 15 years. You will never pass a referendum with this short sighted leadership and people like myself throwing the I told you so in your face at every turn!
Sue J January 15, 2013 at 03:44 PM
It is so sad that it came to this decision. When information was put out there for the last referendum a master plan included a repurposing of the Coultrap building for the administrative offices. A lot people I have spoken that voted for the referendum took that fact into consideration when voting for the referendum. I really can't believe the interior deterioation of the mechanical systems happened exlusively over the last 3 1/2 years of non-use by a student population. Seems to me that updates and repairs when the school housed students were not being made maybe because it was an old building and the school board never intended on saving it. Our old buildings give Geneva the charm it has. Building in Europe are used that are hundrends and hundreds of years old but a 60 year old building here is too old and has not useful purpose anymore. It is sad and wasteful. With this decision to tear down this school I for one will never vote again for a new building referendum. Preservation is definitely a concern here. It is the new is better mentality.
Geneva History Center January 15, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Find it even harder to believe after reading a second article in the newspaper today on land that the school board wants to sell for $2.2 million. Sell it and invest in Coultrap's preservation. http://www.kcchronicle.com/2013/01/15/district-304-to-sell-28-acres/alu1koj/
Sue J January 15, 2013 at 04:58 PM
Agreed!
Jacob Chally January 15, 2013 at 06:59 PM
I guess they did consider my idea about turning Coultrap into a branch of Fox Valley Career Center, but it was shot down. However, did they consider the following. 1. Geneva would not be paying the entire cost of the renovations. My idea was that each of the participating schools (Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles, Kaneland, West Aurora, Burlington, etc) contribute a few million into the renovations. We can raise the money from the sale of Fourth Street as well as the sale of the 28 acres of land on the west side of town. 2. Not every single FVCC class needs to be moved there. I suggested later that only classes such as the Health Occupation (which is off campus at Mooseheart currently), Cosmetology, Computers, and other classroom based classes. The only ones we probably would not be able to put in would be Fire Science and Auto Shop. 3. Logistically, it would be better for St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia to go to Coultrap rather than to Kaneland. Think about it, St. Charles East has to go from their school (which is all the way by Charlestowne Mall) to Kaneland, which is on the western edge of the county. That's at least a half-hour, 45 minute drive. I am disappointed that the School district decided tear Coultrap down, when it could be renovated and used for the better of the school district. They should have put the referendum money into renovating Coultrap rather than building Fayban. Oh well, what's done is done :(
Angela Kane January 15, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Why exactly has it come to this? Why did Dist. 304 allow this building to get to this state of disrepair? Why wasn't regular and routine maintenance done to make sure this wouldn't occur? Somewhere along the way a conscious decision must have been made to "let it go to h*ll" rather than do the regular things necessary to keep the building in service. Now look where we are--in a pickle because the building is decrepit, we owe over $300 million on debt to build other necessary/unnecessary buildings, and costs to fix this historic building are prohibitive. Hmm, seems like they just wanted more space to expand the high school all the time....
Sue J January 15, 2013 at 09:29 PM
They briefly discussed this issue last night at the meeting. The BOE said they spoke to neighbors surrounding the school and they would not be happy with the extra traffic.
Sue J January 15, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Yes, I agree with you that they wanted to expand the high school all the time with a NEW building. All they see are NEW buildings fitting into the master plan.
Jacob Chally January 15, 2013 at 10:39 PM
That's just it though. It would not generate any more traffic than it did when it was in operation as a school, as a matter of fact, it would probably be even less. Mooseheart's facilities (where the FVCC Health Occupation classes are currently housed) are not that much better than Coultrap. The school is rundown, doesn't have Internet access in most classrooms, minimal electrical outlets, old chalkboards that has seen better days, and so on. They would jump at the opportunity to move into a renovated Coultrap building if given the offer (it would also be closer to Delnor Hospital, where they go a lot). Kaneland, while better, still has it's issues with it's facilities.
Mitch Dinges January 15, 2013 at 11:48 PM
From the description of disrepair I began to think Coultrap had so much in common with Wrigley Field.
stix slavinski January 16, 2013 at 03:48 AM
would it come as a surprise to anyone if we were to someday learn that joe stanton was lurking around in the shadows ready to pounce on the newly vacated school property after "convincing" our inept school board to vote to demolish coultrap in much the same way that he "convinced" our weak hpc and city council to side with him on the pure oil building. maybe we could use a new bank on peyton street.
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.
Jacob Chally January 16, 2013 at 04:22 PM
I did bring it up, I was the one who brought up the idea of renovating Coultrap into FVCC at the public forum last June, and I even went up personally to Mark Grosso afterwards and begged him to have the board investigate it. Obviously, they did, but I don't think they listened to my proposal all the way. What exactly did they say about FVCC, and how long did they discuss it for? Did they say they talked to the Kaneland (and other neighboring districts) about the possibilities?
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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