Early childhood building in Urbana has 'substantially declined'

Early childhood building in Urbana has 'substantially declined'

URBANA — While the future remains uncertain for Urbana's former Washington Early Childhood School — which has been vacant since August 2013 — one thing's for sure: the board does not want to renovate the building.

Revamping the 91-year-old facility would cost at least $4 million, Urbana board President John Dimit said as the group discussed its options for the property on Tuesday evening and came to the consensus that it would not pursue preserving or repurposing it. Since it was vacated when the district opened its new Early Childhood School on East Washington Street, next to the current Dr. Williams Elementary School, the building has "substantially declined," Superintendent Don Owen said. Just Tuesday morning, the maintenance staff reported the main drive boiler motor had failed, meaning the building is currently without heat, Director of Facility Services Ota Dossett said, estimating it would cost $5,000-plus to replace and install a new motor.

"This building is an active concern of ours," Dossett said.

Annual utility costs for the former school average $22,000 and maintenance work costs around $8,000 a year, Owen said. Since it was vacated, the building has incurred around $85,000 in expenses, which does not include the labor involved in monitoring for vandalism, fees for alarm systems, pest control and the maintenance of the grounds.

While no decisions were made Tuesday, the board discussed several options, which were presented in order of the administration's preferences:

— Sell the building outright via a bidding process, with the district setting a minimum bid. Owen said it would be wise to try to sell the property before the next heating season.

— Demolish the building and redevelop the property as the site for a potential future central office for the district.

— Demolish the building and sell the land, which Chief Financial Officer Carol Baker said would be a second option if selling the building outright did not produce "what we wanted," she said. The estimated cost of demolition would be $675,000, Owen said.

— Find a developer to build and lease a new central office and adult education center on site.

— Swap the property with another governmental entity for land that could be used as the site for a new central office. Owen said the city of Urbana's proposed new tax increment finance district could potentially help with the redevelopment of the site. He said the Urbana Park District may also be interested in the property because of its proximity to Crystal Lake Park. Board Vice President Benita Rollins-Gay said if the board decided to demolish the building, she wants to make sure it thoroughly examines the historical value of the property and would like to see the district save some of the bricks to give to former students, as has been done in the past.

"We need to make sure we have community input on this, too. ... Many kids went there and, to me, that school has meaning," she said.

The board further discussed its option and the "intricacies of pricing comparisons" in closed session so as to not influence the sale price of the property, Dimit said.

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Joe American wrote on February 17, 2016 at 12:02 pm

Well, Urbanaites and Urbanians, tighten your belts and hang on to your wallets.  They're coming for you again.