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Group makes push to get Coultrap landmark status

Published: Friday, June 22, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 22, 2012 7:11 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – A dozen neighbors of Coultrap Elementary School say they plan to seek historical landmark designation for the school, at 1113 Peyton St., to buy time before Geneva School District 304 officials decide whether to demolish the building.

Martha Paschke, a neighbor to the school, said the major concern is that officials are rushing the decision, which she said risks their not making the best financial choice for the district.

“It’s not being done at all for sentimental reasons – ‘We love this old building.’ That is not our reaction at all. It is to buy time to make sure a good decision is being made,” Paschke said. “Demolition will cost $870,000, they say, and they’re saying they would create ‘green space,’ so it’s going to be closer to $1 million.

“They’re saying rehab costs of $2 million to $4 million. We want to make sure they are going to take the time to pursue other options and potential uses for the building.”

School officials are taking public comment on the building, which was built in 1923. The next forum is 9 a.m. Saturday at Williamsburg Elementary School, 1812 Williamsburg Ave. The public also may give input online at the district’s website, www.geneva304.org.

Geneva Community Development Director Dick Untch said under the city’s code, any group or individual can apply for local historical landmark designation using an online application.

According to the city’s ordinance, filing for landmark status would create a 120-day delay on any demolition action by the school board.

“The historic preservation commission must conduct a public hearing within 60 days, and the City Council must act within 120 days,” Untch said. “It is still very early here, and we have seen nothing.”

If historical landmark status is achieved, Untch said, it means if school officials decide to raze Coultrap, their demolition permit would come under review by the Geneva Historic Preservation Commission. It could be denied, as was the case recently for the Pure Oil building on West State Street.

Although officials have said they want to make a decision in July, board Vice President Kelly Nowak said she did not think it would be decided that quickly.

“In light of all the terrific feedback received at the forum and additional feedback [expected] on Saturday, I would anticipate that the decision will probably be made in late summer or early fall,” Nowak said. “We are all very much aware that this is a difficult decision for a lot of reasons, and none of us is taking it lightly or want to make it with undue haste.”

Nowak understands how difficult this issue is.

“It is hard for me personally,” Nowak said. “All three of my kids started school there, but I don’t have the luxury making a decision based purely on emotions. ... We have to determine the best long-term use of that property for the entire community.”

Kurt Wehrmeister and Carolyn Zinke, who both serve on the historical preservation commission, attended a forum this week to plead the case to keep Coultrap from being torn down.

“There are very few more historically significant buildings in the community – others include the library and the courthouse,” Wehrmeister said. “In 71 of its 89 years, if you were a public school student, you went [to Coultrap] for high school or middle school ... and elementary school in 1994. ... Tens of thousands of Genevans have attended there.”

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