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Coultrap forum ponders school’s fate

GENEVA – At the third and last forum Monday on Coultrap, Geneva School District 304 officials outlined dire financial challenges of keeping the facility open, essentially paving the way to justify tearing it down.

School board President Mark Grosso said the board would decide at its Jan. 28 meeting.

Board member Michael McCormick said he has decided the building must come down.

“Given our fiscal issues, we have looked at this 15 ways to Sunday,” McCormick said. “This old girl is fading fast. It has historic implications, but boy, the numbers hurt.”

But Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Center, said she feels sick at the thought of the school being torn down.

“I voted for the [2007] referendum to build Williamsburg because I was told [Coultrap] was going to be reused,” Emma said. “Now I kind of feel like I’ve been cheated.”

Grosso read an extended statement on the costs of trying to keep the nearly 90-year-old school open. In short, renovation and repair estimates were $2.3 million to $4.3 million as opposed to razing the building at a cost of $862,000. If the district were to bring the school back to standards for students to attend, the cost would be nearly $16 million.

The district’s presentation to a handful of residents included a slide show of the building’s internal problems, which include leaks, deteriorating windows, broken pipes and compressors that don’t work.

Coultrap was closed in 2009 when Williamsburg Elementary School was built to replace it.

“This building probably needed a larger investment to save it than we could provide,” Grosso said.

Even renting out the building was not an option, Grosso said. The only one to show interest was the Kane County Regional Office of Education, and what the district would receive in rent would barely cover the district’s annual maintenance cost. It costs about $69,000 annually to operate Coultrap at a minimal level.

Grosso said the district would not sell the land because the nearby high school is landlocked and might need room to expand in the future.

Resident Glorianne Campbell said she attended Coultrap for three years when it was a high school.

“I have a definite sense that the school district made a decision [to demolish] before they got to the first meeting,” Campbell said. “In three years, I think you let it go … What you have planned for this building makes me quite sick to my stomach.”

Board member Mary Stith defended the district’s efforts, saying Coultrap and other older school buildings simply cost more to keep up than newer buildings.

“It’s one thing after another,” Stith said. “We did not let the building fall into disrepair.”

Emma said the Geneva History Center would host a Coultrap program from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 12 to celebrate the building and its memories.

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