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QuickStory: Lots of Ideas on Coultrap's Fate—But District Will Keep the Land

A variety of ideas and opinions come out of the first of two public hearings on the possible demolition of the Coultrap facility. But one message is clear: The School District intends to keep the property.

Most of the 20 or so Genevans who went to the podium at asked Geneva School Board members to find a way to preserve at least part of the 1923-vintage .

But the groundswell of preservationist opinion wasn't quite as loud—or as pure—as the outcry to save the . In fact, there were nearly as many ideas about what to do with the Coultrap building as there were speakers.

One message did come through as clear as a school bell Monday night, however: Whether Coultrap stands or falls, the district has no intent to sell the land beneath it.

"At some point in the future, because the high school is landlocked, we are going to need additional space," School Board President Mark Grosso said. "We do feel it would be short-sighted to sell this property and then have to buy it back. We do want to retain ownership of this property."

Grosso said that ultimately—whether it's 30, 40 or 50 years in the future—the high school will need more room, which means that selling the Coultrap property to a developer is not an option. And he underlined that by saying it twice.

"The district wishes to retain this property for future expansion at some date—we don’t’ know what that date is—for expansion of our high school," he said.

A second clear message Monday night was that the city's Historic Preservation Commission won't weigh in on the Coultrap conversation as a voice representing the city of Geneva. The seven-member advisory board requesting that the School Board consider adaptive re-use of the building.

HPC member Kurt Wehrmeister said Monday that Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns did not forward the HPC's letter to the School District, in part because the building is outside the city's Historic Preservation District. But Burns encouraged HPC members to express their opinions as individual citizens or as a group.

Wehrmeister spoke first at Monday's forum and asked, on behalf of the HPC, that "all possibilities be explored."

"With the exception of and the courthouse, this is quite possibly the most historically significant public structure in this community," he said.

The building at 1113 Peyton St. has served as Geneva's high school, junior high school, middle school, elementary school and now is home to School Board meetings and a few ancillary uses.

In April and May, the HPC and City Council heard testimony from many residents opposed to the demolition of the a blue-roofed former gas station on West State Street that now is proposed as an adaptive reuse as a bank drive-through. Many of the speakers at Monday's forum expressed similar feelings about the preservation of Coultrap.

Geneva History Center Executive Director Terry Emma said her grandmother attended high school in the Coultrap building, where Monday's meeting was held, and her children performed on the stage to the audience's right.

"The historic preservation of this building is a no-brainer," she said. "I felt like that with the Pure Oil building, it’s a no-brainer. I understand where you’re sitting today with dollar signs in your head ... I understand your plight. What I’m asking for is creativity. I don’t’ know what the answer is, but I’m here to ask you, take a breath, take a deep breath, and please save this building."

Kathy M June 19, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Creativity, failing plumbing, heating, crumbling ceilings. Can (or should) it be converted to a parking garage?
Colin C. June 19, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I am deeply concerned by the mindset that I perceive on the part of the Board on this issue. Coultrap was in use only 4 years ago as an elementary school and suddenly it's so old, dilapidated, and out of code as to be unsalvageable? The Board estimates that it will cost over $800,000 to tear it down. They did not offer an estimate for turning the lot into a "green space" but we can probably say the whole project will cost over a million. They say that fixing it up will cost nearly 5 million so they want to spend a million to save the property to build on in the future when the high school needs more room. And how much will a new building cost in the future? 20 million? more? Would it not be prudent to develop a plan of progressive restoration of the building we have now, moving school functions into it as needed (pre-school?, Career Center? computer labs? many possibilities!). Spread the cost and the move over 5-10 years, spend the 5 or 6 million needed for restoration and save 1 million in demolition costs and maybe 20 million for a new building? I'm getting tired of people coming to us, telling us that this or that old building is "too old, dilapidated. unusable, etc.etc." to be saved and then finding that, my goodness!, when push comes to shove there is a way to save it and use it and even save money doing it. 4-5 million in the next 5-8 years or 1 million now and 20 million later. I certainly know what my choice is. It's time to get creative.
Carolyn Zinke June 19, 2012 at 07:28 PM
I agree with Colin Campbell. I believe that the school board has to seriously consider renovating Coultrap, moving their central offices into it and selling 4th Street. 4th Street could be historically repurposed into housing, a community center, an arts center, etc. while expanding the small park on the property. Just check the web site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to see ooodles of successful ideas there!
Jacob Chally June 20, 2012 at 01:34 AM
I stand by my statements from last night. The Board of Education needs to open up talks with Kaneland and the other districts, and consider renovating Coultrap into a branch of the Fox Valley Career Center. The Kaneland branch could remain for the Kaneland and Burlington Central students while the Coultrap branch could be used for Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles and West Aurora students. Funding could come from the sale of Fourth Street, having each school district affected by the changes chip in a little money, and possibly grant money. I also believe a "Friends of Coultrap" committee should be started to raise money around the community for the project, like the "Friends of Burgess Field". Colin made some good points, prices are only going to go up, so instead of building new later, renovate now, and save the historic building. Even though Coultrap will need a Harrison Street School-style renovation (i.e gutting it to the studs and completely redoing it) it can work if the community comes together.
Colin C. June 20, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Jacob, We thought that your comments at last night's meeting were excellent. Among all who commented you offered the best and most practical uses of the Coultrap building. I see that you are still up to it here. Great! I just hope that the Board has not already made up their minds about demolition. I would hate to see our community have to go to war with them over what to do with this wonderful, old building. I would be more than happy to join a "Friends of Coultrap" group if there are others that are interested. We would also be happy to pledge an initial donation of $500 toward renovation/adaptive reuse. That is a bit of a stretch for us but the goal is well worth it.
John R June 20, 2012 at 02:42 AM
I suggest that all those interested attend the board meeting which is scheduled for this Monday. Let's meet in "the pit" (the area directly in front of the boards table) after the meeting. This would be a good spot to exchange email address's and to interact with the board prior to them going into executive session. All opinions on the coultrap issue feel free to attend. One of the speakers had a really good idea to open up the building for tours, etc. whoever that was please attend Monday's meeting. We need to talk to scott about arranging a time. The open house/tour could also serve as a community meeting of sorts to get the ball rolling. Thoughts? John Rice
Bob McQuillan June 20, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Interesting meeting last night, especially if you listened to all comments. It was the first I heard that the board doesn't want to sell the property. With that, the options are limited. Three different "groups" spoke; save it because of history and memories, local residents whose concern is the property not becoming a parking lot and the tear downers. Each group has good points but not all can be satisfied. My thoughts on each group are as follows: It is a historic building - under this thinking every building built before 1950 shouldn't be torn down. The memory defense is a little disturbing. Memories are just that, memories. An ex-teacher told me last night, students remember the people inside the building not the building. You go to reunions to see the people not the building. Most school building don't look like they did 20-25 years ago. Especially Geneva High - graduates of the 70's would say, where did my high school go. Coultrap is not in the historic area and thus not protected. Mayor Burns made the right decision with the city not commenting on the issue. The local residents - they have a legitimate concern in their fear of it becoming a parking lot. The chances of that happening within 10 years is a real possibility. Once the turf field is in place, the Burgess parking lot might become some type of practice field. Fans would then park at the high school and the "Coultrap" parking lot and walk to the sports complex. Traffic could be a real problem.
Bob McQuillan June 20, 2012 at 04:05 AM
The "tear it down" group - this group is looking for the lowest short term cost option. They also believe the renovation estimates are way too low. A 25 year district employee stated last night that once the work starts it is going to be very costly. Opening walls of a 90 year old building is going to bring all type of problems. The $4 million could become $8-10 million overnight. Couple of other thoughts * less than 10 years ago 4th street was renovated for the administration and more than $3 million was spent to move the pre-school to the middle school. Every classroom had to have a bathroom put in because that is required for pre-schools. It doesn't make sense to move the administrative offices at a cost of at least $4 million to renovate not counting the actual moving cost. * the district doesn't have the funds to spend millions of dollars on a renovation. We are already $300 million in debt (principle & interest). * the 2006 phase II plan for the high school expansion called for the newest part of Coultrap to be torn down. That means that the high school expansion would not have included the 1923 building. * the friends of Burgess Field raised $45,000 of a planned $500,000. So where do this put us? A decision on Coultrap does not need to be made immediately - it has been on hold for at least 3 years. Why doesn't the community explore all options before deciding what to do? Right now, it only costs $70,000 to maintain.
Bob McQuillan June 20, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Possible solution - let the HPC purchase the building for $1.00 with the intent to raise the money necessary to renovate the building. Give them 2 years to get a campaign going. The district can start them off with a $500,000 grant. This should be the only taxpayer money spent on Coultrap( tear down will cost $800,000). The district would retain the option of tearing down the newest section of the building if and when a high school expansion is needed. This might cost $300,000. If the "Friends of Coultrap" is not successful in raising 50% of the needed renovation funds by January 1, 2015, the district gets the $500,000 back and the building comes down. At that time, the district guarantees that the property will remain green space until 2030. Pros of the plan * the history group puts some skin in the game by agreeing to raise the necessary funds without taxpayer money. * the residents are guaranteed to have either Coultrap or green space till 2030. * it costs the district no more than $800,000 ($500,000 grant & $300,000 to tear down the new section). * a final decision isn't made till January 1, 2015. * all groups are heard and all can work toward an acceptable solution. Going "to war" with the school board & district won't solve anything. The plan might not be perfect but it is a plan. The only other creative plan is from a recent high school graduate that has stepped up to the plate. Before you rip these two plans apart, YOU need to come up with a viable solution.
John R June 20, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Bob has made some excellent points and suggestions. After the meeting Monday I spoke with a couple board members. One thing I expressed was that whatever the decision is it has to make complete economic sense and must be a smart business. I commend the board for getting this topic out front and opening it up to the public. Now the public needs to take it to the next level and help out with some creative thinking or back them up if it makes economic sense to bring it down. Geneva was at its finest on Monday. Very refreshing to hear the ideas, see the passion and engage an interesting and complex issue. Let's all get to the next board meeting, meet up in "the pit" to connect, work individually on ideas until Monday. I'll call Scott about the possibility of a coultrap open house and reach out to others. I go back and forth on my opinion of what to do with the building but one thing is certain it has to be a great deal for us the tax payer. John Rice
Kathy M June 20, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Perhaps the board needs to post some photos of the buildings problems to illustrate the issues. My "suggestion" of a parking deck was ment to incorperate the face and basic structure (something not unlike the commuter deck at Rt31 north of the tracks). Parking as been an issue for years. It could be used for visitors and staff. However the suggestion to have a closer location for the vocational program is interesting it would still require $$$ just to make repairs up to code
Carolyn Zinke June 20, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I am not sure gutting Coultrap down to the studs is necessary. The building needs to be evaluated by a professional team experienced in historic prreservation. That, to my knowledge, has yet to happen.
Colin C. June 20, 2012 at 06:47 PM
The HPC is a volunteer group appointed by the mayor to advise the City Council on historic preservation matters. It is not constituted in such a way that would legally allow it to purchase or manage property. As for citizens buying the building, why? We already own it. We elect the school board to represent us in the utilization and management of our property. We should tell them what we want them to do. At any rate, the Board has made it clear that they do not intend to sell the property. The building was built to hold people, not cars. Structurally it can not be converted to a garage. Several residents at the hearing made it clear that they do not want a parking lot there. That proposal would garner a lot of opposition. I come back to the simple discussion of cost. The Board has proposed demolishing the building, creating a green space, and later building a new building for high school expansion. We have several cost estimates that are admittedly not very exact. Still, I cannot believe that demolition and new construction in the future (when?) would be less expensive than renovation. Besides, renovation would give the school immediate use of at least part of the building. Many other communities have managed this. Why can't Geneva? See the links in the next post.
Colin C. June 20, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Here is maybe more than you care to know about preserving older schools. The practice is widespread and experience shows it to be a sound and conservative fiscal choice. Historic Schools.  This is the ‘schools’ section of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website. (Most of the links below appear on this homepage). http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/saving-a-place/historic-schools/   Resource: Guide for Community-Centered Schools” http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/saving-a-place/historic-schools/additional-resources/nthp_schools_resource_guide.pdf   A Roadmap to Saving Your School http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/saving-a-place/historic-schools/additional-resources/school_study_roadmap.pdf   Older & Historic Schools:  Restoration vs. Replacement – the Role of a Feasibility Study http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/saving-a-place/historic-schools/additional-resources/school_feasibility_study.pdf   And, most recently the blog of the NTHP featured this historic school in Denver: http://blog.preservationnation.org/2012/05/30/denvers-emerson-school-building-reopens-after-green-restoration/
Bob McQuillan June 20, 2012 at 08:47 PM
The taxpayers should not put one more dime into a building that is almost 90 years old except the cost to tear down.. We were told we needed a "replacement" school because it was too expensive to renovate. Bill Wilson has always said that if it cost 50% more than the cost to build new then build new. The district has all the space it needs for many, many years. We do not need either the 1923 building or the newer section. WE are 300+ million in debt, that needs to be paid off before we spend another dollar on renovating ANY building. It is an 90 year old building, it is what it is - every old building in Geneva can't be saved Like the HPC wants to do. A LLC could easily be set up by the "Friends of Coultrap" and they can save the building by raising funds to renovate it. Enough tax dollars have already been spent on the building over the last 90 years. Let me say it again, WE ARE 300 + MILLION IN DEBT (PRINCIPLE & INTEREST), THAT SHOULD BE THE BOARD'S FIRST PRIORITY. A plan to pay the debt even comes before the next teachers contract. We don't get rid of the debt and Coultrap isn't the only empty school the board needs to worry about. People will leave by the truck load! You want to save it, you find a way to pay for it. It is that plain and simple. The taxpayer ATM machine is empty. Sorry to be so blunt but those are the FACTS.
Geneva Non-parent June 20, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Bob, For clarification - You're advocating that the debt for the district be literally equal to zero before "we spend another dollar on renovating ANY building"?\
Jacob Chally June 20, 2012 at 11:28 PM
I agree the building should be evaluated by a historic preservation team before we make plans, but the building needs so much work, it will need equivalent to the remodeling Harrison had a few years ago, maybe even more. That is why I stated "gut to the studs". This is a list of the work that is needed 1. Various Structural repairs (Tuckpointing, repairs to bricks, roof replacement, etc) 2. Window Replacement (Not a high priority, but current windows are old and inefficient) 3. Asbestos abatement 4. HVAC Upgrades 5. Electrical and Plumbing upgrades (Including renovation of restrooms) 6. Fire Protection upgrades (Sprinkler system addition plus alarm upgrades) 7. Flooring replacement (New tile and carpet) 8. Ceiling and lighting upgrades 9. Security (Key fob system and Al phone video entry) 10. Various upgrades to comply with ADA requirements 11. Technology upgrades Obviously, that is going to cost a ton of money, which we really cannot afford to spend right now as Bob has pointed out. Therefore, I propose we gradually do the work over the period of several years, doing each project by priority, thus not having to spend a ton of money at once, like what Colin said. Plus, we should look for the most affordable contractors possible, how do we know were getting the cheapest, most competitive bids possible?
Jacob Chally June 20, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Meanwhile, we need to start negotiating with all the districts participating in the Fox Valley Career Center (Batavia, St. Charles, West Aurora, Kaneland, Central) about the future of the program and how we can best maximize it for future students. Currently, most of the programs are housed at Kaneland High School, with a few being located elsewhere (Mooseheart, Waubonsee Community College, etc). Because of the growing popularity of the program, Kaneland has basically maxed out their space for the program, and waiting lists have formed. This is where Coultrap comes it. I propose splitting Fox Valley Career Center into two locations, with Kaneland, Burlington Central and West Aurora going to the Kaneland location, while Batavia, St. Charles and Geneva go the the Coultrap location. This would save time and money for all the students and their districts, because St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva would no longer have to bus their students out to Kaneland (which I might add, is in Maple Park, on the far western edge of Kane County, imagine the drive from St. Charles East all the way to Kaneland!) This would allow for more kids to participate in the program while saving Coultrap.
Jacob Chally June 21, 2012 at 02:21 AM
John, I would be more than happy to attend. Before the next meeting, I'm going to do a little research on funding for my idea, and then draft two letters to the school board regarding the topic, one being a formal letter of request to have the board consider my idea, and the second being a hypothetical letter the board could send to Kaneland and the other districts regarding this topic.
Bob McQuillan June 21, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Geneva Non-Parent I'm advocating that the district has a plan to pay off the debt before we renovate any buildings. The district has no formal plan to pay off the debt other than have the taxpayers pay more in taxes and maintain the education fund at $15 million. Within a few short years, our yearly debt repayment will be $24.9 million dollars, $10 million more than we currently pay. This community can't come up with an extra $10 million for debt repayment by raising taxes. Expenses must be cut and next year's proposed budget calls for increases in expenses. We are headed down a dead-end street driving a car with no brakes. The crash isn't going to be pretty. This district has no money to spend on a 90 year old building.

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