PAXTON — A Paxton resident who has spent months trying to stop the demolition of the PBL Eastlawn School building is now taking the matter to court in a last-ditch effort to save the historic structure.
Attorneys representing Jolen Anya Minetz filed a complaint for injunctive relief against the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district in Ford County Circuit Court last Friday. The complaint asks that a judge grant a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction prohibiting the district from tearing down the 94-year-old building at 341 E. Center St. in Paxton.
A court hearing was set for 3:30 p.m. this Friday.
Next Monday, workers for Paxton-based Lee Farms Excavating are scheduled to begin demolishing the two-story brick structure, which has been determined to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
Minetz’s complaint claims that a ballot question that voters approved in November 2016 — which authorized the school district to issue building bonds to tear down the building — was illegal for “numerous reasons.”
The referendum asked for voters’ approval to issue bonds totaling $31.4 million to fund the demolition of Eastlawn, build a two-story addition to Clara Peterson Elementary School and renovate the existing Clara Peterson Elementary School building as well as PBL High School.
Minetz’s complaint said the referendum was illegal because, among other reasons, “it denied the voters the ability to choose some projects and reject some other projects.” The complaint noted that a voter who disagreed with tearing down Eastlawn but still wished to support the construction and renovation projects, for example, had to either vote in support of all of the projects or against all of the projects, even if doing so did not accurately reflect their opinion.
Minetz’s complaint said the referendum also appears to have violated the Illinois Election Code, which generally allows “not more than three public questions” to be submitted to the voters of a political subdivision on a single election ballot. In this case, the complaint said, there were five questions in a single proposition:
(1) Should the district issue $31.4 million in bonds?
(2) Should the district issue bonds to build the addition to Clara Peterson?
(3) Should the district issue bonds to tear down Eastlawn?
(4) Should the district issue bonds to renovate the existing Clara Peterson building?
(5) Should the district issue bonds to renovate PBL High School?
Minetz’s complaint also noted that the referendum did not inform voters of the cost of each of the four projects — only the overall amount.
Minetz’s complaint added that the referendum’s approval by just a 70-vote margin — 2,024 in favor compared with 1,954 against — was “statistically insignificant.”
Meanwhile, Minetz’s complaint noted that the PBL Eastlawn School building — which formerly served as Paxton Community High School — is “historic and architecturally significant.” Minetz said it was designed by renowned architect Joseph William Royer, who also designed the Ford County Courthouse.
“If the Eastlawn Elementary School building is demolished, the citizens of Paxton, the citizens of Ford County and the citizens of the State of Illinois will lose a valuable part of their history,” Minetz’s complaint said. “The plaintiff and the citizens of the City of Paxton, the County of Ford and the State of Illinois will be irreparably harmed if the Eastlawn Elementary School building is demolished.”
PBL Superintendent Cliff McClure did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the complaint Monday.
Minetz began attending school board meetings last spring to ask that the board postpone or cancel its plans to tear down the Eastlawn building. Minetz said she believed the school district should first try to sell the building before resorting to tearing it down.
The board, however, indicated it would not reconsider the demolition plans.
“The demolition of Eastlawn Elementary was included in the referendum question which passed in November 2016, and the board plans to continue to move forward to demolish Eastlawn Elementary and act on the voters’ approval,” said a statement released by McClure to the media in May.