RI aldermen may rescind landmark for Audubon

Originally Posted Online: May 12, 2013, 8:01 pm
Last Updated: May 13, 2013, 12:46 am
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

Another historic abandoned Rock Island school faces demolition, as aldermen Monday night will consider repealing landmark designation for the old Audubon Elementary, 2617 18th Ave.

Last Nov. 13, the Rock Island School Board approved an agreement with Fareway Inc. to sell the Audubon School for $475,000. Fareway plans to demolish the 1922-23 building and construct a grocery store at the site but has not submitted an application torezone the property.

On Feb. 15, the cityreceived a landmark designation application package from Alexandra Elias, a formerresident of Rock Island now living in San Diego, for the former Audubon School site.The application was placed on the March 27 agenda of the Rock Island Preservation Commission for a "preliminary determination of significancefor landmark designation" by the Preservation Ordinance.

A public hearing washeld on April 24, and the school board unanimously voted to oppose proposed historic landmark designation. There were many residents in attendance fromthe neighborhood surrounding the Audubon School and several spoke in favor of thelandmark designation. After a lengthy publichearing, the Preservation Commission voted 8-0 to designate the formerAudubon School site as a historic landmark.

School District superintendent Michael Oberhaus has submitted an appeal letter dated May 7. The City Council may consider other relevantfactors, including economic considerations, not considered by the PreservationCommission, in its handling of the property. Dr. Oberhaus' letter cites "continuing maintenance of the property is anongoing expense that could be better used for our core mission – Educating Children."Rejection of the commission's decision requires a two-thirds majority vote of the council.

Prior to the Fareway offer, the Audubon property (closed as a school three years ago) had been on the market for two years and no other offers had been made, according to Dr. Oberhaus' letter. "The additional requirements of the Landmark Designation will diminish the types of purchasers, reducing the opportunity for a sale," he wrote. "Having a vacant school on a high traffic street will not be in anyone's best interest."

The district requests that the City Council not approve landmark designation for the property, and the city planning staff recommends overturning the designation, according to a council memo.

If aldermen agree, it would mirror action by a previous city council in2007, when the council and former Mayor Mark Schwiebert voted 7-1 to rescind historic landmark designation for the former Villa de Chantal property at 2101 16th Ave., clearing the way for demolition and construction of the Rock Island Center for Math & Science. That school opened in May 2010, serving 550 students in pre-K to sixth grade.

Approval from six of the eight present then also was required to overturn the Preservation Commission's landmark protection for the Villa. Thatwas the first time since the city preservation ordinance was adopted in 1984 that such designation was rescinded on an existing building. The Villa -- a former girls school and convent, built between 1901 and 1929 -- was also on the National Register of Historic Places, but was badly damaged by a fire.

Last August and September, the long-vacant 1893 Lincoln School was torn down at 2125 7th Ave. The city had owned that property since 2007. In April 2012, the City Council asked the Rock Island Preservation Commission for a "certificate of appropriateness," to allow demolition, but the commission denied the council's request.

On May 7, almost exactly a year ago, the council voted 6-1 to override the Preservation Commission's denial.

At Monday's 6:45 p.m. meeting, aldermen also are scheduled to approve a road reconstruction project of nearly $1 million: 5th Street between 18th and 26th avenues is to be rebuilt. The city'slow bid is from Walter D. Laud, in the amount of $964,638.13, which is 38 percent lower than the
engineer's estimate of $1.56 million, according to a council memo.

The council meets in the third floor of city hall, 1528 3rd Ave. for the complete agenda (including Preservation Commission meeting minutes), visit rigov.org.


Local events heading

  Today is Wednesday, Oct. 1, the 274th day of 2014. There are 91 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: It is rumored in the streets that the 13 negroes sent to Quincy on the Moline quota were refused. We think this must be a mistake.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Harvey McKenna, of Detroit, billiard player matched to play Wizard Schafer in New York in January for the world championship, was a professional friend and manager, Billy Catton in Rock Island.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Levi Cralle, former Rock Island county sheriff, had come from his farm near Mitchell, S.D. to visit friends in the city.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Work is being rushed on the new high school building in Orion to replace the one destroyed by fire last winter. Classes are being held in churches.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Rehearsals for the 84th season of the Handel Oratorio Society chorus will begin at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the stage of Centennial Hall, Augustana College.
1989 -- 25 years ago: The Rock Island City Council's plan announced this week to have the federal government vacate Valley Homes public housing and move residents to Arsenal Courts to reduce density may not be feasible.

(More History)