BLOOMINGTON — Getting the old Bloomington High School placed on the National Register of Historic Places would clear the way for an Iowa developer to start renovation of the 100-year-old building near downtown this summer.
The Bloomington Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Jan. 18 to sign off on the nominating application, sending it to the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council for consideration on Feb. 23. That process will be followed by a National Park Service review, according to Sherry Graehling, who heads the local historic preservation board.
"We were all just thrilled," she said. "There is no way we can lose if we do this."
National register status would open the door for federal funding and tax credits for private developer James Bergman, who is preserving a building that "is part of our architectural heritage and stands out for its paramount classic design, much as our courthouse building, which is now being used as the McLean County Museum of History," said Graehling.
"It's a win-win because we preserve our history, and then we still have something that is a taxpaying entity," she added.
National register status would mean renovations must follow specific guidelines to preserve its historic value.
Bergman plans to convert the second and third floors into affordable apartments for residents 55 and older and lease the first floor for commercial activities.
"We applied to the Illinois Housing Authority, and we received an allocation of low-income housing tax credits," said Bergman Tuesday. "Now we're going through the national historic designation process to be able to tap into federal historic tax credits.
"Assuming all that happens, we expect in the next six months to be under construction," Bergman said.
The building, completed in 1917 on a full city block bounded by Washington, McLean, Jefferson and Evans streets, housed the high school until the current BHS opened in 1959. It served as a junior high until Bloomington Junior High School moved to a new building at 901 N. Colton Ave. in 1990.
In 1992, Bloomington District 87 sold the property, which now houses a mix of businesses.
"Architecturally, the building is a large and impressive local example of a Collegiate Gothic-style educational building designed by locally significant architect Arthur L. Pillsbury, and it reflects the style's popularity for secondary school buildings during the early twentieth century," architectural historian R. Terry Tatum wrote in nominating documents.
Despite changes, the former high school retains "excellent historic integrity," he added, including historic staircases and spacious boys and girls gymnasiums and auditorium, and most of the original building materials and finishes, including terrazzo floors, beamed ceilings and plaster walls and decorations.
Bergman said he plans to preserve many of those original features and materials, both inside and out, because "that's what attracted us to it."
"We're very supportive of the national register application," said Bloomington city planner Katie Simpson.
In the city's historic preservation plan the building is recognized as a potential resource for national historic designation, "so it's nice to see the building owner moving forward with that," Simpson added.