School district to see if Mt. Morris has interest in DLR building

Junior high students to travel to Oregon next school year

OREGON – The Oregon School Board will ask Mt.Morris Village Board members next week if they are interested in entering negotiations to assume ownership of the David L. Rahn Junior High, after it closes at the end of this school year.

The school board agreed Monday night to have Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney attend the May 24 village board meeting to see if transferring the school and property was an option.

“We can divest ourselves of the property by one of three ways,” Mahoney told school board members. “We can transfer the property to another governing body, we can demolish the building and sell the land, or we can sell the property as-is now through the bid process.”

Mahoney estimated the cost of keeping the vacant building would cost the district $35,000-$50,000 each year while demolishing it would cost $675,000-$700,000.

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

“I’d like to give first refusal to the Mt. Morris Village Board,” said Bryan Wills, school board president.

“You are welcome to bring any proposal to the village board,” replied Mt. Morris Village President Phil Labash.

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 the school open.

DLR is the last remaining school in Mt. Morris. The two school districts merged in 1994 after the Mt. Morris School District dissolved due to 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.

Monday night, Mahoney said 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.

Board member Mindy Nesemeier said she would like to delay any decision on selling the school until the district sees if the transfer of junior high students to the high school actually works.

“I’m a little nervous about selling it so soon,” she said. “I feel like maybe we need to at least get through the first semester before we decide to sell it. I’m more for offering it to Mt. Morris and then deciding from there.”

The decision on what to do with the building and property is up to the school board, Mahoney said.

“I don’t have the authority to authorize anything,” he told school board members.

After the meeting, Labash said Mahoney would address the village board at its May 24 meeting.

In April, Mahoney said he was approached by a group who was interested in acquiring the property to create a college in Mt. Morris, but not until 3 years in order to secure funds to establish the institution.

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.

Why close DLR?

On Aug. 16, 2021 school board members voted to close the school, but in January the school board rescinded its August vote 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 that 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.

Advisory board members also disputed Mahoney’s financial rational for closing the school arguing that the district was in good financial shape and closing DLR was not warranted.

Earleen Hinton

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