Posted Online: Nov. 07, 2013, 6:44 pm

Lemon makes bid for Audubon

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
A chain link fence surounds the former Audubon School in Rock Island.
ROCK ISLAND — A developer has made a last-gasp effort to save Audubon Elementary School from the wrecking ball.

Joe Lemon Jr. submitted a formal $100,000 offer for the property on Thursday, which could be presented to the school board Tuesday.

Mr. Lemon first expressed interest in the property last summer but didn't submit a formal offer through the district's broker until Thursday.

Last month, the school board voted unanimously to demolish Audubon and awarded a bid of $224,300 to Valley Construction for the work.

Asbestos abatement work at the 2601 18th Ave. site began this week, said Bill Hass of Valley Construction. A local non-profit already has removed tiles, doors and other items from the building.

Mr. Hass said that if the district changes its mind about demolishing the school, Valley only would charge for expenses it has incurred on the project so far.

School board president Linda Dothard had no comment on the offer from Mr. Lemon, a local developer with experience redeveloping historic properties.

An offer from Fareway to buy the building for $475,000 and tear it down to build a grocery store was torpedoed last summer after a legal challenge from residents opposed to the project.

The school was built in 1923 but has been vacant since it closed in 2010, and the district plans to sell the vacant lot if demolition goes ahead.

Mr. Lemon's real estate agent, David Levin, confirmed Thursday that he had submitted a $100,000 offer for the property.

Mr. Lemon said his offer for the property would produce big savings for taxpayers compared to demolition. It costs the district about $30,000 a year to maintain Audubon in its present condition but district officials are worried those costs will increase.

District spokeswoman Holly Sparkman said school board members are aware of the bid, but wasn't sure if it will be discussed or voted on when the board meets Tuesday.

She said that once the school board voted to demolish the building it was no longer for sale. The district does not have to bring the offer to the board, but a board member could introduce the offer for consideration.

In June, Mr. Lemon said he would match Fareway's $475,000 offer for Audubon.

On Oct. 22, hours before the school board was due to vote on demolishing the property, Mr. Lemon emailed the district's chief financial officer Bob Beckwith and said he was interested in buying Audubon for $50,000.

Because the offer was not considered a formal bid, it was not considered by the school board.

The district released the email last week.

Mr. Lemon wrote that he wanted to see Audubon preserved but that "it has been difficult to find suitable uses for the property that are financially viable.

"Our investigation into the potential uses for the building and the costs associated with its renovation — including the impending boiler repair — suggest to us that it would be difficult to make the project financially viable even with the $50,000 purchase price," Mr. Lemon wrote in the email.

Mr. Levin said Thursday that Mr. Lemon had no clear plan for Audubon if his bid is accepted, but was confident he could find a use for the building.