ROE nixes gym demolition

Michelle Anstett

Galesburg District 205 officials were mystified when a letter appeared at their offices in the Lincoln Education Center on Jan. 18.

“Apparently, it was just dropped off at the front desk,” said Superintendent Gene Denisar of the letter. “It just appeared in my mailbox ... sometime that afternoon.”

It was from Knox County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bonnie Harris, in response to information Denisar had sent her in late November regarding demolition of the free-standing gymnasium at Lombard Middle School.

The district has been waiting on Harris’ reply in order to proceed with demolition of the old gym, one of the last pieces of Lombard College, and construction of a new locker annex to the middle school building. Condemned by both the Knox County Health Department and the Galesburg Fire Department, the district needed Harris’ letter of condemnation in order to forward the application on to the Illinois State Board of Education to receive approval to use life-safety funding for the project.

Denisar sent the appropriate information to Harris’ office on Nov. 27, requesting a reply by Dec. 4. The letter received Jan. 18 was the first time the district had heard anything from the ROE on the matter since November.

And when he opened the letter, it read:

“This is a response to the letter you requested concerning the Lombard South Gym commonly called the ‘Zephyr Dome’. The Regional Office denies your request for condemnation and demolition of the building.”

The 2-line letter gave no explanation as to why the request had been denied, nor did it allude to why the district had to wait so long for a reply.

In an interview, Harris said she made the decision to deny the request because the district had not done what she felt was necessary to maintain the building properly.

“The building is really the charge of the district to take care of and maintain,” she said. “The maintenance of that building was on a to-do list ... I don’t know that (the issues with the building were) taken care of.”

She also believes that, with the cooperation of the district and the community, “we could keep it, maintain it and make it be a workable building for the community.

“Historically, that building is a very significant building. To raze it, we can’t build it back at all.”

At present, there are no obvious alternatives the district can pursue in order to get the building demolished. There may be a way to petition the state board directly, but officials have not yet found out if that is an option.

While she denied the request for demolition, Harris did approve the district’s request to apply to the state board for life-safety funds for new construction. In order to replace the functionality of the old gym, District 205 will be allowed to build two locker facilities, two restrooms and a coach’s office onto the south wall of what Lombard students and staff call the “tile gym.”

That project, says assistant superintendent for finance and operations Paul Woehlke, is “the most important piece for us to get approval on.” The new construction will go up for bid sometime this spring, with the hopes of completing the project during the summer months.

And while the new building will be a plus for all students and faculty at Lombard, district officials worry that the Zephyr Dome will only pose potential problems in the future.

“It’s not the school district’s responsibility to be a historical preservationist for the community,” Woehlke said. The soon-to-be-abandoned building “will be a liability for the district.”

Contact Michelle Anstett at