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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 03:45 pm

Enos School replacement plan under fire

Nonprofit asks state to reexamine cost estimates

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Enos School is scheduled for replacement by Springfield School District 186, but Springfield nonprofit Save Old Springfield is asking the Illinois State Board of Education to halt the replacement plan pending further investigation of the cost.
PHOTOS BY PATRICK YEAGLE

A Springfield nonprofit is asking the state to put the brakes on a plan to replace an elementary school building located north of downtown.

Jerry Jacobson, spokesman for the nonprofit historic preservation organization Save Old Springfield, sent a letter to the Illinois State Board of Education on Monday, asking the state to reevaluate whether it’s cheaper to replace or renovate Enos Elementary School, 524 West Elliott Ave. The school is targeted for replacement by Springfield School District 186, but Jacobson and others want to see the school preserved, saying it has potential historic value.

In his letter, Jacobson claims the district overestimated renovation costs and underestimated the cost to build a new school. That’s a significant charge because state law says the health/life safety bonds issued by the district to pay for the new Enos building and several other school improvement projects district-wide can only be used to build a new school if the cost to renovate an existing school is higher than the cost of replacing it.

Jacobson asked ISBE to reevaluate the costs and halt the district’s plan in the meantime.

“When this careful scrutiny is avoided, school districts will waste public funds and destroy historic resources that can meet today’s educational needs,” he wrote. “We are demolishing buildings that can last for centuries and replacing them with buildings that will last for decades.”

Jeff Vose, superintendent for the Sangamon County Regional Office of Education, said he’s familiar with the Enos School plan, and the district has followed all applicable laws in its application process.

“Everything they have done has been in a good faith effort,” he said. “Nothing they did was inappropriate.”

The State Board of Education is evaluating Jacobson’s letter and has not offered any official comments.

The district’s plan calls for demolishing Enos School, which the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Earlier this year, Landmarks Illinois, a statewide architectural preservation organization, listed Enos School as one of the most endangered historic schools in the state.

The district estimates it will cost $10 million to build a new Enos School in total, compared with about $8.7 million for renovation as of 2007, without adjusting for inflation. But the $10 million replacement cost isn’t the number that ISBE uses to calculate whether it’s cheaper to replace or renovate a school, says Pete Sherman, spokesman for Springfield School District 186. ISBE’s calculations don’t factor in site demolition, architecture fees, a required contingency fund and the cost of inflation in building materials, he says. From ISBE’s perspective, the cost to replace the school is $7.7 million, Sherman says, which makes replacement cheaper than renovation.

Jacobson’s letter to the ISBE claims the district previously supplied him with figures of $8.39 million for a new building and $8.27 million for renovations. While Jacobson claims the lower estimate for renovation means the district can’t legally use the bond funds to replace Enos School, Sherman says the renovation plan doesn’t include several items that would push the cost higher. Among them are ADA-compliant elevators costing an estimated $800,000, a sprinkler system and improved lighting.

Sherman said that health/life safety bonds don’t require ADA compliance, so that cost wasn’t included in renovation estimates. However, construction of new buildings does require compliance, he said. Including that cost pushes the renovation estimate higher.

“The district has maintained that a new school would be more economical, which is a larger notion than one building being cheaper than another,” Sherman previously told Illinois Times regarding the Enos School plan. “Taking a long-term view, a new building actually will be less expensive over the long run. And, most importantly, it will provide our children with a higher quality, safer and more flexible and comfortable learning environment.”

Sherman says stopping the project now would be “virtually impossible” because the plans are already set in motion.

“Because we’ve been given the go-ahead on many levels and have full commitment from our board, we’ve already committed to construction contracts, purchased supplies, and are actually planning to go vertical this month with the new school,” he said, referring to the construction start date scheduled for this month. The district is “very excited” about the project, he says, “especially when we think about how great it’s going to be for our students.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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