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Residents offer mixed opinions of fate of Coultrap

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

GENEVA – Geneva resident Candan Spellman knows it’s hard to say goodbye to a beloved old building such as Coultrap Elementary School, but said during a public forum Saturday morning that sometimes buildings outlive their usefulness.

“I’m not seeing the point to save it,” she told members of the Geneva School District 304 board.

Spellman was among about two dozen adults gathered at Williamsburg Elementary School for 90 minutes Saturday to give their input about and ask questions of the school board’s plan to make a decision regarding Coultrap’s future. This was the second such forum that week.

The district has come up with four options. One is to demolish the building at 1113 Peyton St. for an estimated cost of about $862,000 plus an estimated $44,000 to $54,000 for landscaping. The others are variations on moving administration to Coultrap, which would require an estimated $2.3 million to $4.2 million.

Board President Mark Grosso stressed that the renovation costs would cover the expenses needed to move administration there. It would not pay for work needed to make the building ready for student occupancy, he said.

Board member Bill Wilson said it would be “phenomenally expensive” to renovate Coultrap for student programming.

Jim Abbott, who lives near Coultrap, criticized the board for not supplying the true costs of renovation. Coultrap neighbor Pete Elza was also concerned that not enough data is available for a decision to be made.

Conducting studies comes at a price, Grosso said. Bringing in professionals to estimate the costs of turning Coultrap into a student attendance center could easily exceed $50,000, he said, noting that is nearly as much as the district annually spends to maintain Coultrap.

“I would think that investment is very prudent,” Elza said.

Before learning renovation costs could be higher if it is used as a school, Abbott asserted it would be a better investment to renovate the building for a few million if demolition would already be around $1 million.

“You have a building,” Abbott said. “Invest in it.”

Demolition is permanent, he said, and Coultrap shouldn’t be torn down without a long-range plan in place.

Wilson said discussions about Coultrap aren’t new. The district developed a master plan about six years ago, he said, and the building was considered then. The facilities master plan is available on the district’s website, www.geneva304.org.

Residents also spoke about the importance of preserving Coultrap for historical and cultural reasons. Neighbors are seeking historical landmark designation for the school to buy time before district officials decide whether to demolish the building.

Speaking on behalf of his daughter, Geneva resident Patrick Murphy said she has fond memories of her time at Coultrap Middle School, but her memories are more about the people there than the building itself.

“Nostalgia is great,” Murphy said, “but it comes at a very, very high price.”

Residents have asked the district if they can tour Coultrap to see for themselves what condition it is in. Grosso said Superintendent Kent Mutchler is working on arranging public tours.

No other public forums are listed on the district’s events calendar, but feedback on Coultrap is being accepted online.

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