A vacant school is becoming a money pit for the Rock Island School District. For the past three years, they’ve spent nearly $100,000 at the former Audubon Elementary, keeping the utilities running to keep the building from deteriorating.
In June, Joe Lemon Jr., said he would buy the building and turn it into a residential unit. However, he never turned in his purchasing agreement.
So now the school sits with a for sale sign serving as a welcoming sign. On the inside of the former Audubon Elementary School, hallways are quiet; there are no backpacks or jackets in the lockers. The only sign of a child is a stuffed animal on a radiator in an empty classroom.
“And when a building sits like this it just takes its toll,” said Gary Eastman, Building Operator for the Rock Island-Milan School District.
No one has used the building in more than three years.
“It’s hard to want to continue to spend $30,000 a year to maintain an empty structure,” said Rock Island-Milan Superintendent Dr. Mike Oberhaus.
The effects of the emptiness are evident. Shattered glass, from a boarded up window, is on the floor. Vandals used a rock to get in. There have been nine reports of vandalism this year. On top of that, is a boiler that doesn’t work; it could cost $30,000 to fix it.
“It’s time consuming and it’s expensive,” said Eastman.
The school district thought the sale with Fareway grocery stores was a done deal. They thought they’d sell away the boiler problem. It is estimated it costs $18,000 a year to pay for natural gas, which would include heat. Without the heat, there is fear the building would deteriorate very quickly; floors would curl, paint would peel off walls.
“Obviously that was a disappointment that the sale didn’t go through to us. It’s kind of put us in this predicament now,” said Oberhaus.
The district says there are three possibilities for this predicament: fix the boiler, turn off gas and water, or demolish the building. It could cost $200,000 to demolish the building.
“We would’ve hoped that we could’ve moved the property and unfortunately that happens with vacant school buildings. We want to do what’s best,” said Oberhaus.
Time is not standing still, but rather running out for what to do with this empty building.
The district will have a cost comparison and a recommendation at an October 22nd board meeting. Superintendent Oberhaus hopes they decide what to do that night. A decision needs to be made by January 2014 because of a state inspection that would require the boiler to be up and running in order for the school to pass.