PBL Eastlawn School demolition

The 94-year-old PBL Eastlawn School building at 341 E. Center St. in Paxton, as it appeared Friday afternoon following Day 10 of demolition. Workers for Paxton-based Lee Farms Excavating begin tearing down the brick building on Nov. 4.

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PAXTON — Inaccurate information contained in the project manual released to contractors during the bidding process for the demolition of the former PBL Eastlawn School building may have led to the confusion — and controversy — that ensued in the months to follow.

The project manual, published online in February, contained a drawing showing the scope of excavation work to be completed. Among the work was the removal of “an existing manhole with foundation drain” and “storm piping” in an area on the southwest side of the property at 341 E. Center St. in Paxton.

That “existing manhole,” however, was no where to be seen in a survey of the property completed five months later upon the request of the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district’s demolition consultant. Instead, the area that had included the manhole’s removal was listed as a “do not disturb” area.

Without that work included, the survey by Cullom-based Krause Surveying Inc. showed that no more than 0.99 acres would be disturbed by excavation. That is just barely under the 1-acre threshold for which an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency stormwater discharge permit and, subsequently, a review by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) would be required for the project.

The survey happened to be completed just weeks after Frank Butterfield of the nonprofit group Landmarks Illinois informed school district officials that, based on the scope of excavation shown in the February drawing, it appeared an IEPA permit and SHPO review would be required.

After the survey was completed, Butterfield contended that the school district reduced the scope of the excavation work to avoid those requirements. Notably, a review by the SHPO could have delayed or even stopped demolition of the 94-year-old building, which was determined in May to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

The school district’s demolition consultant, meanwhile, said Butterfield’s assertion was based on a “misguided comparison” of the February drawing and the July survey, telling the IEPA in an October email that the survey was undertaken only to “validate existing information and assist in managing the scope of work.”  The consultant, Mike Ewald of Collinsville-based Environmental Consultants LLC, stressed to the IEPA that at no point was it anticipated to excavate or disturb all of the 1.18-acre property — but only the 0.99 acres that comprised “the footprint of the building,” “associated site concrete” and an “abandoned septic system tank (and manholes).”

Paxton resident Jolen Anya Minetz, who had been trying to save the building from demolition, later contacted the IEPA with concerns about what she said appeared to be an attempt by the school district to avoid needing to obtain a permit.

“It would be really nice to know if they excluded ... elements (contained in the February drawing) for any reason other than to avoid this permit, considering their scope of work appears to have been reduced after this permit was brought to their attention,” Minetz wrote in an email to IEPA officials.

Amy Dragovich, manager of the permit section for the IEPA’s Division of Water Pollution Control, responded in early November, saying that the IEPA had reviewed both the July survey and February drawing and also visited the excavation site the previous month to determine if a permit would be required. Dragovich said that because less than an acre would be disturbed, no permit is required.

Dragovich also mentioned that, according to the school district’s demolition consultant, the February drawing “included inaccurate information.”

IEPA spokesman Kim Biggs later responded to an email from the Ford County Record asking what specific inaccuracies the consultant had mentioned.

“I did check with our permit section manager (Dragovich), who spoke with the consultant,” Biggs said in an email. “She said they did not go into detail, but the consultant mentioned that he didn’t find one of the manholes where it was identified on the (February) plan sheet. I do not have any additional details related to this issue.”

While the IEPA said it was told there were inaccuracies in the February drawing, Ewald made no mention of that — and actually said there were “no inaccuracies in our documents” — when he sent an email to the school district’s superintendent, Cliff McClure, regarding Minetz’s recent correspondence with the IEPA.

“The scope of work of this project has not changed. There are no inaccuracies in our documents that we are aware of, and none of our documents have been amended or changed,” Ewald wrote in the email.

The Ford County Record later confirmed through a Freedom of Information Act request that there were indeed some minor changes made to the February project manual for the demolition work. The changes were listed in an addenda dated March 1, which showed no changes to the drawing, however.

The Record also confirmed through a separate FOIA request that there were no contractual modifications issued after the execution of a $1.15 million contract with Paxton-based Lee Farms Excavating in March, including any change orders related to a reduced scope of work.

In response to another FOIA request by the Ford County Record, the school district released on Tuesday numerous engineer’s drawings and surveys completed on the Eastlawn property, including any used to create the drawing contained in the February project manual.

One of the decades-old drawings — apparently completed in advance of an addition to the school building being constructed — shows what is referenced as a 36-inch manhole in an area on the property’s southwest side. It appears that manhole is located in the July survey’s “do not disturb area” and in the same area as the manhole that is referenced for removal in the drawing included in the project manual for the demolition work.

It remained unclear whether the manhole is actually still there.

Both Ewald and McClure declined to respond to the Ford County Record’s requests for comment.