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Committee wants to save school

Committee wants to save school

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dmtompkins@verizon.net

CHENOA - The vacant, former Chenoa Elementary School will be razed unless someone buys the property, but an exploratory committee is convinced it could become a community center.

Marion Shier, Clayton Rosenberger and City Council member Jayne Zeller formed the Chenoa Community Center Exploratory Committee to seek public support for the project and conduct the basic research to determine if the project is feasible. The committee hopes to present a proposal at the January meeting of the Prairie Central school board meeting.

"The big questions are: Can we (the community) use the facility and can we afford to keep it? So, the first thing we need to find out is if there is community interest," said Rosenberger. "The roof is in bad shape and the boiler needs to be replaced, so it will cost a lot to repair and remodel, then we have to find out how much it will cost to maintain."

Despite the need for extensive repairs and questions of who will own and run the facility, Rosenberger said he believes the school building has potential and its size - 21,000 square feet - offers many options.

"The gym would be ideal for co-ed volleyball, gym nights for adults, prom, after-prom events or for the Boys & Girls Club," said Rosenberger. "The cafeteria and kitchen could be used for wedding receptions, and the classrooms could be business offices or perhaps the library could move in."

The repair costs were among the reasons why the building was closed this year as part of the Prairie Central school district annexation of the Chenoa district.

Chenoa's 69-year-old high school closed in May 2004, and the students started attending Prairie Central High School in Fairbury.

The elementary school continued to operate through the 2004-05 school year, then the building was closed.

About $1.9 million worth of renovations to convert the former high school into the new elementary school began soon afterward and were completed in August 2005.

A 1999 survey revealed residents wanted a community center, but no plans were developed because neither land nor a building was available, Rosenberger said.

"It would be wonderful if the citizens of Chenoa could find a legitimate use for the building," said Prairie Central Superintendent John Capasso, a Chenoa High School graduate. "The district desires that the site, whether it becomes a community center or is cleared for a residential development, be turned into something that Chenoans can be proud of."

In addition to the repairs and maintenance costs, the committee also will need to discuss ownership.

The Prairie Central school district owns the building, but it has no use for the building or property. Rosenberger said the city or some other governing body would need to take ownership.

Rosenberger said a taxing body or nonprofit organization would be necessary to keep property taxes from "killing the project." Regardless of who takes ownership, Rosenberger said he believes the city will lose if nothing is done.

"The school board wants to get rid of it and the city could use it, but whether or not we can afford it is another thing," said Rosenberger. "However, if it is razed, the town will never get something this big again."

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