The Longfellow Center in Downers Grove Grade School District 58 is on “life support” and a significant investment would be required to maintain the property, school board members were told at a recent meeting.
Discussion of the building’s future is nothing new for the district. Todd Drafall, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, said he found a 2005 memo that discussed plans for the building.
“This has been a conversation, obviously, for many years, 16, but we have certainly the last couple started to work at this again and go through and think we have worked to document the issues around the facility,” Drafall said at the Feb. 8 school board meeting.
He added the district would face significant expenses to continue to operate the building at 1435 Prairie Ave.
The 90-year-old building houses the district’s office of curriculum, technology and instruction, as well as maintenance services.
“I will tell you at the base cost there, anything we do is going to be more than the minimal we’re doing now,” Drafall said. “This is an example of some of the operations we are keeping on life support.”
If the district keeps the building, the cost of replacing the fire alarm system and boiler, as well as asbestos abatement, would exceed $1.2 million, Drafall said.
Annual costs to operate the building exceed $32,000, and capital updates over the next decade are estimated at $776,000, excluding $200,000 for new boilers, he said.
Looked at another way, the annual cost of updates for the Longfellow Center is estimated at $77,623, and the total annual cost of ownership is $109,000, he said.
Of course, the district has options if it decides to sell the Longfellow property, including:
• Build a new administration center on the Longfellow site and demolish the existing building.
• Build a two-story addition to the current district headquarters, 1860 63rd St., and make adjustments around nearby Indian Trail Elementary School to accommodate parking and related district needs.
• Close one of the schools and convert it into an administration center and maintenance facility.
• Purchase an existing building in the community for an administration center.
• Lease office space.
Plans to partner with the village of Downers Grove and be part of a new facility the village has considered to house a village hall and police station appealed to the district, but the village has delayed the proposal.
“Until COVID hit, that was a real possibility,” Drafall said.
Drafall said the district must be mindful of its limited funds for capital projects when moving forward with a decision on the Longfellow Center.
“Our capital facilities, our capital availability, is very limited,” he said. “Spending what limited resources we have for capital on administrative space when we have many needs that impact classrooms and student learning is just not a priority. So we need to come up with an option that can work, still be functional, have an efficient, effective system of support for our 13 schools that is better than what we have right now, today, and is, as I say, on life support.”
If the district decides to sell the property, it would be required to establish a sale price and accept sealed bids. The highest bid must be accepted, and the district does not have a say in how the property is developed, Drafall said. If the district’s sale price is not met, it can contact a realtor to market and sell the property, Drafall said.
“The real value and issue with the property is the capital liability that sits there currently and the needs of that building as it is now and us to maintain that at that level,” Drafall said.