Tug Of War; Some Want to Save Rock Island's Old Audubon School - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Tug Of War; Some Want to Save Rock Island's Old Audubon School

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     Buildings that sit empty for years - should they be preserved or torn down to make way for something new?  There are mixed reaction after Tuesday night's Rock Island/Milan school board decision to sell the old Audubon Elementary to Fareway Stores, Inc. The company intends to build there, meaning the 90-year old building will have to come down. While there is excitement about a new business possibility, it's quickly turning into another heated issue over a building with a lot of history.
     It's also caught the attention of the Rock Island Preservation Society. Members are talking about applying for a landmark designation, hoping to stop the building from coming down.
     Charles Austin, a Rock Island council member, went to grade school at Audubon in the 1950's. His wife studied in the very same room for second grade, and his daughter was a teacher the final year the school was open. "I've got the memories. The memories aren't tied to the bricks," said Austin.
     Seeing the building reduced to a pile of brick rubble is what many are concerned about. "It's such a beautiful building too. I don't know what they could make use of it but it's sad it's going to be gone," said Rachel Hayden, who lives nearby. Hayden says the school is more than just a fixture in the neighborhood and the city. "I like looking at these beautiful trees and having the lot there to play with my kids. I'm not excited about looking at a parking lot and a bunch of cars."
      Preservation society members say the building meets criteria for a landmark designation. That route is a possibility to stall demolition. An application goes to historic commission, there's a public hearing and a vote. The property owner does not have to agree but can appeal.
     Right now, Fareway Stores representatives are focused on getting their ducks in a row for a new store. While a timeline or specific details on a facility aren't available, they say the plan is to include the public in the process. "I can't stress enough that this will be a transparent process. Our intent is not to come in the middle of the night, tear down a piece of property and build a store," said Garrett Piklapp, Secretary and General Counsel for Fareway Stores, Inc.
     The building is designated one of Rock Island's 100 most significant unprotected structures. But even so, many like Austin say it's time for change since the building has sat empty for more than two years.      "We'll have pictures. Like I say, it's time to move forward," added Austin.
     The purchase agreement voted on Tuesday night gives Fareway 120 days to go through a re-zoning process, get permits for construction and enter into a development agreement with the city.