Posted Online: Sept. 04, 2013, 10:04 pm

Preservationists offer hope for old school, bridge

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By Kevin Smith, ksmith@qconline.com

ROCK ISLAND – Local historical societies on Wednesday asked an Illinois lobbying group what can be done to preserve sites in Moline and Rock Island.

Landmarks Illinois met with about a dozen preservationists to discuss which historically significant sites are most at risk of demolition and to offer advice on possible solutions.

Multiple members of the audience named Audubon School in Rock Island as one such site. Fareway Stores had talked to the Rock Island/Milan School District about buying the site to demolish the building and build a grocery story, but those plans have fallen through.

Joe Lemon Jr., and his father, Joe Lemon, have said they are willing to pay $475,000 for the property but have yet to formalize the offer.

Landmarks Illinois representatives offered a gleam of hope for those worried about the school, stating there have been numerous successful adaptive reuse projects centering on old schools.

"It's a job that can be done," saidFrank Butterfield, director of the organization's field office in Springfield, who added his group was familiar with the school. "They're (schools) kind of like an anchor for the community."

Reusing school buildings can increase the surrounding area's tax base and spur redevelopment, he said.

Audience members also discussed the possible demolition of a pedestrian bridge to Syvlan Island that was closed earlier this year over safety concerns.

On Friday, the Moline Park Board voted to demolish the bridge and replace it. Arecent structural engineering report said replacing the bridge would cost $1.2 million, but repairing it would cost $1.8 million.

Landmarks Illinois agents said they were unfamiliar with the bridge, but Bonnie McDonald, president of the group, said her organization has previously sent engineers to reassess the cost or similar projects.

"When demolition is mentioned, it catches our attention," she said.

Getting a second opinion on the bridge's repair costs resonated with Norm Moline, of Rock Island, who serves on the advisory council for the National Register of Historic Places in Illinois. Mr. Moline said he thought it was a shame to let such a gorgeous piece of land go to waste, given Sylvan Island's historical significance.

Landmarks Illinois receives its funding through donations and membership dues. Each year, the group compiles a list of the Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. Past lists have included a handful of Quad-Cities landmarks, such as the decommissioned train depot in Moline and the now-demolished Lincoln School in Rock Island.