Posted Online: April 24, 2013, 9:21 pm

Audubon School granted historic landmark status

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By Kevin Smith, ksmith@qconline.com

The Rock Island Preservation Commission on Wednesday unanimously voted to grant historic landmark status to the former Audubon School.

The Rock Island-Milan School District has given Fairway Stores Inc., the potential buyer of the school at 2617 18th Ave., until Aug. 1 to complete the sale. Landmark status would prevent the school from being demolished for future development if the purchase agreement falls through.

Earlier this month, school board members voted against the proposal to grant landmark status to school. As long as the district owns the school, the district is liable for its maintenance, said superintendent Mike Oberhaus. The school is considered "surplus property," he said, and the buyer can do with the property what it deems fit.

Alexandra Elias, a former Quad-Citian now in San Diego, sought the landmark status. She was unable to attend Wednesday's meeting because of health reasons, her brother Harris Elias said.

Mr. Elias said economic development and historic preservation are not mutually exclusive, and the property meets multiple criteria of landmarks as defined by the commission. The school has a significant historical value, he said, and is identifiable as an established and familiar visual feature.

"It's simply a beautiful building in a beautiful place," he added.

Contacted in San Diego, Ms. Elias said that, while she was pleased the commission approved her request, the school district can appeal the decision to the city council. The future of the building is uncertain, she said.

"The city of Davenport has kept their historical schools intact, and we've lost a lot of significant battles," she said.

Several residents supported granting landmark status to the building.

"This property is the anchor of our neighborhood," said Thomas Taylor, of Rock Island. He said there was no sense in demolishing the building that can be easily repurposed.

"If anybody has any doubts about the (building's condition), walk around it," he said. "It does not need to be torn down."

Andrea Gaeta, of Rock Island, who also lives near the school, said the site provides a green space for the community. "It instills a great sense of pride in our neighborhood," she said, noting the school's unique architecture.

Preservation commission member Lendol Calder said granting landmark status to the building was an "open-and-shut case" for the commission.

"The application is sound," he said.