Superintendent offers options to school board regarding what to do with “DLR Complex”

Ultimate decision is up to board members

OREGON – Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney has asked Oregon School Board members to start assessing options for the David L. Rahn Junior High building and property once the school officially closes at the end of this year school year.

“I will be asking the board in the near future for some direction,” Mahoney said during the board’s regular Monday meeting before outlining options for the property, located on Brayton Road in Mt. Morris. “I have put together what I believe are the options for the board.”

Mahoney said the board’s options for the “DLR Complex” were to keep it, demolish it, sell it or transfer the property to another governmental agency.

In order to keep the vacant building, he estimated an annual cost of $35,000 to $50,000 to drain water from the pipes, heat the structure, maintain the bus barn, mow and maintain the exterior, plow the bus parking lot, secure all doors and actively inspect the building.

He estimated it would cost the district $175,000 to abate asbestos from the building and another $450,000 to $500,000 to demolish it in order to keep the land. He said the abatement cost is less for a building being demolished rather than being renovated.

The process to sell the property would include the board approving a resolution containing the terms and conditions of the sale. Within 60 days after the passage of the resolution, the property could be sold at a public auction or by sealed bids after being advertised for three successive weeks.

The board could also opt to transfer the property to another governmental agency as long as both parties agreed on terms and conditions for the transfer.

“One of the things I think the board should do — if they don’t want to keep the property — is to at least formally offer the property to the Mt. Morris Village Board. You could do it [transfer] at no cost,” Mahoney said.

He said he was approached by a group who was interested in acquiring the property to create a college in Mt. Morris, but not for three years in order to secure funds to establish the institution.

“They sent a proposal and requested that we don’t do anything for three years and then they would then use that building along with some other buildings in Mt. Morris,” Mahoney said. “They don’t have the revenue now or the resources now to make a purchase.

“But I do want to remind you that every year we keep that building up and operational we’re spending money on maintenance,” he said. “And we would have to fix any additional mechanical things that could go bad.”

He said the board will make the decision on what to do with the property. “I am just the conduit to you guys. You will ultimately make the decision,” Mahoney said.

He also cautioned the board that letting the building sit vacant for any extended period could create additional security concerns for the district as well as the community.

“Next month I will have this back on the agenda and ask for some direction from the board on where you want me to go from the information I provided,” Mahoney said.

Why close DLR?

The school board voted in February to close the school and move seventh grade and eighth grade students to Oregon High School, 5 miles to the east, despite pleas from Mt. Morris officials and residents to keep DLR open.

DLR is the last remaining school in Mt. Morris following a the merging of the two districts in 1994 after the Mt. Morris School District dissolved because of financial reasons.

Mahoney first proposed closing DLR in May of 2021 citing decreasing enrollments throughout the district and increasing maintenance costs at DLR as reasons for the closure.

On Aug. 16, 2021, school board members voted to close the school. The school board rescinded its August vote in January after Rob Urish — a former school board member and member of the advisory board formed last year for input on the closure — said the school board did not follow an Illinois law that went into effect July 30, 2021. The law required three public hearings be held prior to a vote to shutter the school.

Urish said the meetings had to be held to solicit input from communities regarding the closure of a school unless the building was deemed to be unsafe, unsanitary or unfit for occupancy.

In addition to saving money on maintenance costs, Mahoney has said the pros of closing DLR include: allowing junior high students to have access to additional elective courses at the high school; aligning the curriculum more closely and providing more frequent opportunities for staff to collaborate; bringing more coaches/sponsors to a building where some sports/activities have no coaches in the building; and allowing for more staff collaboration while also giving younger athletes more immediate exposure to older athletes.

But in a multi-page presentation made in fall 2021, the advisory board argued that the 1950s DLR building was in “sound shape,” could still serve as a “viable educational facility” and that the district’s finances did not warrant the school’s closing.

Earleen Hinton

Earleen oversees production and content of 9 community weeklies and has worked for Shaw Newspapers since 1985.