UI has not sent request to state over salvaging Armory houses

UI has not sent request to state over salvaging Armory houses

CHAMPAIGN — The state Department of Central Management Services says it has not received a request from the University of Illinois to allow a preservation group to salvage architectural pieces from two houses slated for demolition.

The request to give the Preservation and Conservation Association access to the houses at 57 and 59 E. Armory, C, was never forwarded to the state by the university's property accounting office because officials are trying to determine what procedures govern architectural items, university spokesman Tom Hardy said Friday.

"There are discussions under way to make sure that we're doing everything correctly, and that we can work with PACA and get back to them hopefully soon," Hardy said.

Earlier this week, UI Facilities and Services spokesman Steve Breitwieser said that his division had worked with PACA in July to get approval from CMS to salvage the two properties, but "to date there's no current approval to proceed from CMS." He would not say whether the state agency had denied the request or had not yet responded, referring further questions to CMS.

But CMS spokeswoman Anjali Julka told the News-Gazette on Thursday that the department has no formal paperwork from the UI involving the two houses or a request to allow PACA to salvage.

"Once it's presented to us, we'd take a look at it," she said. "There have been discussions with the university about the overall surplus process."

Breitwieser then said Facilities and Services had forwarded PACA's request to the UI's property accounting office on July 8, and a revised version on July 10, confirming what PACA members told The News-Gazette. But he could not explain why it had not been sent to CMS.

Hardy said Friday that the original request from PACA included furniture in the list of salvage items, as well as fixed items such as trim, leaded windows, porch rails and columns. The reference to furniture was later removed so that the application no longer included any "movable equipment," he said.

"A determination was made that it might be simpler and more expeditious to not have to deal with the furniture component of it," Hardy said.

The State Property Control Act says that state agencies can't dispose of state-owned "transferable equipment" without approval from the Property Control Division of CMS.

Then the question became what kind of approval was required for an architectural salvage project, he said. UI officials held internal discussions and reached out to CMS for general clarification of the rules, Hardy said.

Whatever the UI does will have to stand up to scrutiny by auditors and regulators charged with ensuring state property is handled correctly, he said.

"We have to be accountable," Hardy said. "We want to make sure it's done right."

Hardy said the issue arose at a busy time for the accounting office, just after the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

"It's just unfortunately taken longer ideally than it should," he said.

"The buildings aren't going to go anywhere immediately. I think we've got the capability to get this all worked out in a satisfactory way," Hardy said. "I have a high level of confidence that it will all get resolved."

PACA members had expressed frustration earlier this week with the process, which began in June when they started making inquiries about the two houses. They said they'd been told only that CMS had not approved their request.

"It's sounding a little more hopeful, that's for sure," said Robert Nemeth, a former PACA board member and program director at the UI's Smart Energy Design Assistance Center,

But he also said the issue goes beyond the two houses.

"We want to re-establish this relationship for everything that happens here," he said. "The U of I wants to go green, the Illinois Climate Action Plan states that we're supposed to be going green. That's the goal, and salvage is part of that," Nemeth said.

PACA members say the UI used to give them advance notice of buildings that were about to be demolished and allowed the group to salvage architectural elements. The association has been working with the UI for decades and at one time had a formal arrangement with the campus. But that relationship deteriorated after a key Facilities and Services employee retired in 2010, they said.

"There's no doubt that the regulatory environment and personnel evolve over time. You just need to periodically review and make new determinations that you're handling things according to the latest rules and regulations," Hardy said Friday.

Other officials say the UI also has to be careful not to give PACA preferential treatment over other nonprofits or contractors that might be interested in salvage.

CMS's Julka said the state rules, which have been in place for 25 years, are designed to ensure that the state gets maximum use and economic benefit out of public property.

She also said CMS would make determinations about whether the rules apply to architectural elements such as staircases or wood trim "on a case-by-case basis."

Under the State Property Control Act, equipment that is still "serviceable" must be traded in for replacement equipment; offered to other state agencies; sold to other municipalities or units of local government, school districts or nonprofit; or offered for sale to the general public. Equipment that's no longer serviceable should be scrapped, it says.

Items of antique or historical value are exempt from normal methods of disposal, but they have their own rules and remain under the authority of the CMS director, according to the act. The rules require that the property be lent or donated to public museums or galleries, with the Illinois State Museum and then other state-owned museums or historical sites given right of first refusal. If none of them is interested, the director is to sell the property, with its value determined by a qualified appraiser. The rules do allow for exemptions, however.

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