Neighbors oppose sale of former school in Downers Grove
Downers Grove Elementary District 58 is moving ahead with plans to sell a 93-year-old school building, despite opposition from neighbors.
The district is seeking a minimum bid of $3.8 million for Longfellow Center, which sits on more than 3 wooded acres at 1435 Prairie Ave. Bids will be opened June 24, and the school board is expected to vote July 8 on the sale.
Longfellow Center is a former elementary school that was converted into office space in the 1980s. It currently houses the district's office of curriculum, technology and instruction, as well as maintenance services.
District officials say the building is simply too expensive to maintain.
"District 58 has approximately $245 million of facility needs that must be addressed," Superintendent Kevin Russell said in an email. "The district placed a temporary roof on the Longfellow Center in 2012 that was expected to last 10 years. If the district diverts funds to Longfellow, it would be at the expense of our 13 schools."
District 58 serves roughly 5,200 students from preschool through eighth grade at 11 elementary schools and two middle schools.
If the sale of Longfellow is approved, the district plans to renovate and expand an administrative building at 1860 63rd St. to take in maintenance services. Some of the office staff would relocate to an undetermined rented space.
"They just don't have a plan that's cohesive and looks out long enough," said Joe Leo, a former school board member who served on the board from 2004 to 2009.
Leo is among the neighbors of Longfellow who are questioning the district's decision to sell the building.
"Over a 25-year period, the district is going to spend a lot more money to rent facility spaces instead of just doing a renovation," Leo said.
Longfellow is the same age as Whittier Elementary School and the Tivoli Theatre. Leo says all three were designed by the same architectural firm of Van Gurten and Van Gurten.
He says Downers Grove would likely lose some of its historic character if Longfellow is demolished.
"There's a lot of history regarding the building," Leo said.
He also says the building is "in the middle of a neighborhood."
The Longfellow property is zoned for 12 residential lots. But a new owner could seek permission from the village to rezone the land.
Leo said residents are concerned about the fate of nearly 40 trees on the property. He and other neighbors have asked the Downers Grove Park District and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to acquire the land. But Leo said they were told the minimum asking price is too high.
Some opponents of the Longfellow sale say the district's decision was made in haste, but the superintendent counters that notion.
"The decision to sell Longfellow has been a long-discussed item by the Board of Education and community-based committees advising the Board," Russell said. "Those groups, including the Financial Advisory Committee among others, have all been in favor of the sale of the property."