URBANA — In response to a flap over the disposal of architectural salvage, the University of Illinois has put a temporary hold on demolishing any older buildings on campus.
UI Facilities and Services has suspended all demolitions until a comprehensive process is developed for handling materials in buildings slated for demolition, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Friday.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Phyllis Wise has committed to developing a process, with the state's cooperation, to ensure that preservation groups can get routine access to older buildings and save architecturally desirable pieces from the landfill.
Wise and other campus officials met Tuesday with two representatives of the Preservation and Conservation Association, which had complained that the group was no longer being allowed to salvage architectural items before campus buildings were town down. Campus officials told PACA that their intent is to allow the group to salvage two houses on Armory Street slated for demolition soon.
Rich Cahill, PACA's director of salvage operations, said he was "very positive" after Tuesday's meeting.
Wise, who was out of town Friday, told The News-Gazette last week that a team of UI officials was working on a long-term plan to ensure that "we can allow organizations like PACA to make use of material in facilities we are taking out."
"Obviously we have to do this all legally," Wise said. "It just makes sense for us to find ways to recycle, to be environmentally sustainable."
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 the Central Management Services Department. The rules are designed to ensure that the state gets maximum use and economic benefit out of public property. The question is whether architectural pieces such as wood staircases or oak columns fall under the same rules as desks or filing cabinets.
PACA members say the UI for decades gave them advance notice of buildings that were about to be demolished and allowed the group to salvage architectural elements. But that relationship deteriorated after a key Facilities and Services employee retired in 2010, they said.
Most recently, PACA members felt they were stonewalled in trying to salvage the two houses on Armory. They were told by Facilities and Services officials that the UI was awaiting state approval, but The News-Gazette later learned that request was never sent to the state. University officials said the UI's property accounting office was trying to determine what procedures govern architectural items.
Kaler said Friday that the university will first inform Central Management Services of its intent to allow PACA to salvage the two Armory houses, to ensure CMS is comfortable with those plans.
"We are working on it as quickly as we can," she said. "This is not material that is otherwise going to be used by someone. It's material that, if this isn't worked out, is going to a landfill."
The university will then work with the state on a longer-term policy, which would authorize the campus to allow preservation groups or other nonprofit entities to salvage architectural items before demolition without having to go to the state for permission, as long as the campus ensures the pieces have no historic or monetary value to the university.
"There might be times when it's not appropriate, when we'd want to go in and salvage things" to display or reuse, Kaler said.
The policy would apply to PACA as well as other groups, she said. Officials have said the university has to be careful not to give PACA preferential treatment over other entities that might be interested in salvage.
PACA officials have said they just want to prevent the material from going to the landfill.
"That's a valid point," Cahill said Friday. "The university's got to play fair."
In Tuesday's meeting, Cahill pointed out PACA's long ties to the campus. The organization was founded by UI faculty, and many of its officers and board members have been university employees, he said. Student groups often help with PACA projects, and Krannert Center borrows PACA's materials for stage productions, Cahill said.