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Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 04:19 pm

Plan to preserve Enos Elementary

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Though developers aren’t sure whether an idea to re-purpose Enos Elementary School will be realized, they know they want to transform the building into loft apartments, not unlike the one pictured above, with spacious, open-floor plans and high ceilings

A Springfield school slated for demolition in 2013 might end up with an extended life, if an idea for turning Enos Elementary School into residential lofts becomes a reality.

Springfield School District 186 plans to demolish Enos Elementary School, built in 1915 and located in the northwest corner of Springfield’s medical district, in order to replace it with a brand new school using health/life safety bonds. Instead of demolishing the building, developer Dan Mulcahy, of Dankor Development Co., wants to acquire the four-acre property from the school district, possibly by trading it for a vacant six-acre plot of land located one block north of the existing Elliot Avenue structure.

Mulcahy says assessing the building’s suitability for residential adaptation will take at least 90 days, during which he’ll check for such risks as asbestos and determine the market value of the property. He’s optimistic that the building will prove adequate for a transformation into 40 high-ceilinged lofts with open floor plans. While the existing structure would likely only fit 40 units, new construction on the surrounding school grounds could allow for construction of about 100 more units. The apartments would be marketed to those who work within the medical district, Mulcahy says.

“There is always a, I hope small, percentage chance that it’s not feasible,” Mulcahy says. “But we don’t know that until we go down this road [of investigation].”

Mulcahy says that a land swap could save the school $400,000 in demolition costs while also saving a structure that is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, a potential designation that could equate to tax incentives for the loft project. Mulcahy says that his proposed $4.2 million development would bring in about $98,000 in new tax revenue for taxing bodies including the school district.

“There was a lot of energy that went into making every brick, every window, every element contained therein,” says Steve Myers, who’s the founder of Myers Commercial Real Estate and a board member for both Downtown Springfield, Inc., and the city’s Historic Sites Commission.  Myers stood beside Mulcahy as they presented the idea to the school board last month. “A lot of folks would say, ‘It’s old. It’s not very efficient. It costs a lot to operate. We need a new school.’ We can’t say that we disagree that you need a new school; however, given this plan, we would submit that there’s a better use for that building.”

School board president Bill Looby and member Bill Stoutamyer, who represents the Enos School area, say they’re open to learning more about the proposal but need more details before they can determine its merits. “The devil’s in the details,” Looby says. Although Mulcahy says the plan wouldn’t cost the district any more than would its current plans for Enos School, Looby says finances are still a concern. “There are a lot of unanswered questions at this point.”

Though separate from the Enos proposal, Mulcahy is also pushing the district to make a magnet school out of McClernand School, also located within the medical district but towards the eastern edge near the Springfield Art Association’s Edwards Place. According to a 1995 letter from former Superintendent Robert Hill to city council members, the district has been mulling the magnet school idea for at least the last 15 years. Mulcahy as well as Springfield Art Association executive director Betsy Dollar endorse turning McClernand into an arts-focused school as a way to encourage neighborhood improvement.

Stoutamyer says there’s been talk about adding more specialized schools to the district but nothing particularly concrete.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com.

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