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updated: 1/14/2013 11:23 PM

Demolition opponents fear fate is sealed for old Geneva school

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People opposed to tearing down the empty Coultrap Elementary School in Geneva said Monday at a public forum that the school board has already decided what to do.

"I have been to all three of the meetings, and I have a definite sense that the school district has made a decision before they even got a first hearing," said Glorianne Campbell, who attended school in the oldest section of the building.

She pointed out children had attended classes there as recently as 2009. "In three years, I think you let it go to hell in a handbasket quickly. It doesn't seem to me you were on top of it," she said.

Her husband, Colin, urged the board to delay a vote until after the April school board election, then see if there is interest in moving school headquarters to Coultrap and City Hall into the current school headquarters, then connecting the Geneva Library to City Hall. The library and City Hall want more space.

The board plans to vote Jan. 28.

Monday's public forum was the third on the matter since a task force recommended in May that the Coultrap building be torn down. It opened in 1923 as Geneva High School, then became a junior high and, finally, an elementary school. Coultrap students moved to a new Williamsburg Elementary School.

According to board President Mark Grosso, the Kane County Regional Office of Education was interested in renting the newest addition, built in 1973. But renovating it for the ROE's needs would cost more than $1 million, and the proposed rent would "barely" cover the current maintenance cost, he said. Grosso said no other governments are interested in leasing.

The district does not want to sell the site, keeping it for a potential high school expansion.

To use it again as a school, the district would have to repair it, install a fire-suppression sprinkler system, and make all areas fully accessible at an estimated minimum cost of $15.7 million.

Mothballing it could cost $1.6 million for repairs to keep the building from further deteriorating. "It was pretty naive of me to think it was boarding up the windows and securing the building from vandals or pigeons getting in," Grosso said.

Board member Mike McCormick said he understands the historical significance of the building, but "the numbers just don't work," he said.

"I feel sick," said Terry Emma, who attended Coultrap and is executive director of the Geneva History Center. "I'm mostly disappointed that a master plan, an original plan, is falling apart. I feel like I've been cheated. I voted for Williamsburg (in a referendum) because I was told this building was going to be used."

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