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Article updated: 1/29/2013 9:07 AM

Old Coultrap school has to go, Geneva board decides

By Susan Sarkauskas

People who don't want Coultrap Elementary School torn down begged Monday, to no avail, for more time to come up with a way to save it.

Instead, the Geneva school board voted unanimously to demolish it.

"I don't think you've given us time. I think you have rammed this down our throats," said Geneva History Center Executive Director Terry Emma before the vote. She also accused the board of doing "demolition by neglect," deliberately failing to maintain the building, which her now-grown daughters attended.

A May 2012 district report says that it costs $69,000 a year to run utilities in the building. The report estimated it could cost $1.2 million for repairs to stay its decline, and up to $4.27 million more if it were to be renovated for student use or district offices, including making all portions wheelchair-accessible.

Carolyn Givens suggested the board consider demolishing only the two additions. She also questioned the idea that the building is in too bad shape to be used again.

"My son went to school in this building four years ago. I was told it was a fine place for him to go to school, and now four years later you tell me it is not fit for students," she said. Her son was one of the Harrison Street Elementary School students who went to school in Coultrap when Harrison Street was shut down for remodeling in 2008.

Demolishing at least the northernmost addition was recommended in a 2006 facilities analysis. That would make room for a parking lot if neighboring Geneva High School were expanded.

Trustee Bill Wilson emphatically repeated what board President Mark Grosso said two weeks ago: The building is not for sale. Despite that, resident Lawrence Calhan tried to discuss with the board an offer he said he can arrange for somebody to buy the building.

Public comments are allowed at the beginning and end of meetings, not while the board is discussing matters, and speakers have to sign up before the meeting starts. Calhan had not.

All the trustees acknowledged the town's fondness for Coultrap; it opened as a high school. Wilson recalled walking in for the first time as a scared sixth-grader in 1972, and Trustee Tim Moran pointed to the spot where he used to build a pretend jail for school fun fairs.

"I really respect what you say. This stinks, it really does. But I look at the numbers, and respectfully -- and I'm not trying to be painful here -- Coultrap is our past, and children are our future," and he would rather spend the money on education, Trustee Michael McCormick said.

Two weeks ago, some suggested that perhaps the Geneva Library could move in to it; the library is looking for a larger home and plans to build a new building at Seventh and Richards streets. The Kane County Regional Office of Education thought about moving into the additions, but the cost of fixing it up to their specifications versus the rent it was willing to pay precluded that, Grosso said Jan. 14.

A board task force recommended demolition in May 2012 and had its first forum on the matter in June.

Trustee Kelly Nowak said the board could reconsider, if a wealthy donor stepped forward. She also noted that the board is trying to decide whether to keep another old former school Fourth Street Elementary, which houses the district's offices. It too needs work. Officials would prefer to have the offices closer to the high school.

"If there is somebody who really has a feel for that (Fourth Street) and wants to see an adaptive use for that property, now might be the time to get your ducks in a row," she said.

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