Downers Grove residents seek historic designation to former school

  • Downers Grove Elementary District 58 is looking to sell Longfellow Center, which is a former school at 1435 Prairie Ave.

    Downers Grove Elementary District 58 is looking to sell Longfellow Center, which is a former school at 1435 Prairie Ave. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/23/2021 8:54 AM

While Downers Grove Elementary District 58 is discussing plans to share space with the village of Downers Grove, some residents are continuing their efforts to pressure the district to slow down the potential sale of Longfellow Center.

The residents' most recent efforts involve having the building assessed for eligibility on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The district in May decided to sell the Longfellow Center, 1435 Prairie Ave., which prompted a group of opposed residents to form the Plan Smart 58 group. The group protested the sale of the building and recently submitted the Longfellow Center for assessment with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Joe Leo and Terry Mahoney, both members of Plan Smart 58, said these efforts were an attempt to get the district to step back and have a meaningful dialogue with the community, something they believe the district has not done throughout the Longfellow decision process.

District 58 Superintendent Kevin Russell said the eligibility determination will not impact the sale of the building.

"I can't speak for anyone's motives, but at the end of the day, a designation is entirely honorific, meaning it does not prevent the sale or purchase of the property or anything after that," Russell said.

Getting a building placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Russell said, is a six-step process of which the eligibility designation is step three. In its entirety, the designation process could take as long as 12 months, according to a statement on the district's website.

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Leo said taking steps such as submitting Longfellow for placement on the National Register was not the initial approach Plan Smart wanted to take. But communication efforts with the school district have been one-sided, leaving the group with no other options. Mahoney said with more time, the group could engage open space groups and other third-party organizations that might be interested in purchasing the land to preserve it.

"They're moving forward, and they're not stopping," Leo said of the school district. "They chose not to engage the community ... and we're concerned the district is handcuffing itself to costlier decisions."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources said the building would be eligible for listing in the National Register under Criterion A for its educational significance from 1928, its original date of construction, until 1971.

Longfellow Center has not been used as a school building for 43 years. The space houses the district's curriculum, technology and buildings and grounds departments, including staff offices. It also has professional learning and meeting space for staff.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Maintenance on the building has been continually deferred.

The district is accepting bids for the property until Sept. 27.

The school board in May approved a resolution to sell Longfellow Center for a minimum price of $3.8 million. The district received only one bid. Interested bidders said the price of the land with building removal, including unknown asbestos abatement costs, was too high. The district used this feedback and set a lower minimum price for the property.

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