Lincoln School in Rock Island has been vacant since 1985, but a new group focused on saving the 118-year-old building believes it still has potential.|
After learning that the Rock Island City Council had taken the first steps toward demolishing the old school at 2125 7th Ave., 15 friends formed the Rock Island Community Redevelopment and Advancement Coalition, with the goal of making the building useful again.
The coalition hopes that one day, the school will be a community center and a place where people can go to learn a craft or trade.
"People can learn in a 118-year-old school," coalition member Nikole Lambach said. "People can't learn in a parking lot."
On May 7, the city council voted to override the city's preservation commission and grant a certificate of appropriateness for demolition. The commission denied the city's request for the certificate on April 25, but city law allows the council to override the commission.
The city bought the school, built in 1894, for $53,000 in 2007.
Coalition member Nicholas Babeu said it will cost "a lot of money" and take a lot of work to turn the building into a useful structure. "Right now, we pretty much have a shell of a building. It's definitely a fixer-upper."
He said the two most pressing concerns are major repairs needed on the roof and removing asbestos, which must be done before renovations can begin.
The coalition doesn't have much time to prepare its plans. Mayor Dennis Pauley said the city is accepting bids for demolition, although no bids had been received as of Friday afternoon. He said the city plans to tear down the building in July, though he did not have an exact date.
Mayor Pauley said the group has not presented any plans to the city. "We gave them a tour, and they have not come back with any plans."
To get city approval to turn the building into a community center, the coalition would have to show the city council a plan for what they want to do, and have the money to do it, Mayor Pauley said. "They bring us a project and we'll see what we can do."
Coalition member Gordon Weller said several local artists have expressed interest in having the building reopen as a community center where they can rent space.
"We've contacted a few of the local theaters," coalition member Ben Graham said. "We're going to be contacting different art galleries."
He said the group's next step is making phone calls to gauge how much interest there is in turning the building into a community center.
Group member Adam Kirschbaum said they'd also like to make the building environmentally friendly.
"We really want to focus on sustainable and renewable, as well," he said.
He said there also have been suggestions to put a garden or greenhouse in back of the building.
Mr. Babeu said the group hopes to present plans to the city council, and knows it will be an uphill battle.
"Our biggest obstacle is still finding funding," he said. "They want to see that we'll have funding. We're fighting city hall."
Ald. Jason Jones, 5th Ward, said he met with Mr. Babeu and likes what the group wants to do with the building, which is in his ward.
"I think it's a great idea," he said. "I think it's a very noble thing. They're giving it a lot of energy, and that's very admirable."
However, Ald. Jones agrees it will be an uphill battle for the coalition.
"I think they've got some major hurdles to overcome," he said. "Financing is a major issue. That building's going to require a lot of money."
Mr. Graham said the first step will be determining how much work the building needs and what it will cost.
"This is the very, very beginning step," he said. "What we want it to be is many steps in the future."
He just hopes the group can convince city leaders that keeping the building is in the best interests of the city.
"We are all very passionate about this," Mr. Graham said. "Hopefully, they can see that and say, 'You know what? We'll give these kids a chance.'"
For more information
Rock Island Community Redevelopment and Advancement Coalition website: http://oldlincolnschool.blogspot.com
Old Lincoln School Facebook page: www.facebook.com/oldlincolnschool
Email address for the Rock Island Community Redevelopment and Advancement Coalition: firstname.lastname@example.org