Rantoul seeks OK to demolish three substandard buildings

RANTOUL – The village is taking the first step toward removing some eyesores on the former Chanute Air Force Base and making land available for new business development.

Rantoul Village Administrator David Johnston said he has sent two letters to the Air Force requesting permission to demolish three substandard buildings near the intersection of Century Boulevard and Chandler Road.

If the village gets permission, demolition could begin as soon as spring 2006.

The village has been seeking to tear down the old Chanute bakery building, the former SplatTactics paintball building and the former Pallet Concepts building since October 2004, when staff learned the buildings contain asbestos and lead-based paint.

At that time, Rantoul Aviation and Economic Development Director Reed Berger asked the Air Force for some $500,000 in assistance to demolish the building, but the Pentagon turned down the request, citing lack of funding.

The Air Force still holds the deeds for the property, but it has proposed turning over the site to the village.

Since then, the village has learned about possible contamination to groundwater beneath the three old structures.

"The buildings have lots of asbestos and lots of lead paint," Johnston said. "The basements are all flooded, and the groundwater may be contaminated."

Berger told the Economic Development Commission earlier this year that he would like to convert the area into a business air park, which is an industrial park located around one or more airport runways.

Berger said he intends to make changes to the overall plan for the Rantoul airport to extend a runway to the site and surround that runway with various businesses, but he declined to identify which businesses have expressed interest in the site.

"We have businesses that have expressed interest in expanding and locating in that area," Berger said. "We're seeing demand for this; it isn't just a pipe dream."

In July the Rantoul Village Board decided to proceed with the project even without Air Force financial help.

Village board member Ron Loy said removing the buildings and making space available for future businesses is a priority for Rantoul.

"If we are going to develop those properties, we need to take this first step," Loy said.

Mayor Neal Williams said the board directed the village staff in July to prepare paperwork for a bond issue pay for the demolition work and to pay back the bond with money from Rantoul's tax increment financing district.

Williams on Thursday estimated the project would cost the village as much as $750,000.

"With regard to economic development, those old buildings are nothing more than a roadblock," Williams said. "It is difficult to advertise the area for new construction as long as the site contains buildings contaminated with asbestos and lead-based paint."

The village wants to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2001, when the Rantoul Village Board spent $88,600 to pay for fines and clean up asbestos left from a former Chanute dormitory the fire department burned down in December 2001.

Johnston said the village sent two letters to the Air Force within the last six weeks requesting permission to proceed with the demolition.

Johnston said he is optimistic about getting approval since the Air Force is eager to transfer as much property as possible to the village as it begins another round of base closures elsewhere in the country.

"The Department of Defense will not transfer deeds to buildings with existing environmental concerns, such as lead-based paint and asbestos," Johnston. "But they will give up the deeds if and when the village cleans up the property."

While the village waits for an answer from the Air Force, Johnston said his staff is putting together requests for proposals from demolition companies to complete the work.

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