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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Following is a timeline of the events that occurred over the past several months leading up to the demolition of the historic PBL Eastlawn School building:

Feb. 18: The Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district’s demolition consultant, Collinsville-based Environmental Consultants LLC, issues a request for proposals from interested contractors for asbestos abatement and demolition work at the PBL Eastlawn School building. The “project manual” containing the bid specifications, documents and related drawings is published online for contractors to review.

March 1: An addenda modifying the Feb. 18 project manual is issued. The addenda shows the time for the bid opening is changed but not the date, and the start date for asbestos abatement is changed to Aug. 26.

March 8: Sealed bid proposals for the work are opened by the school district. There are five bidders, with bids ranging from $1.15 million (from Paxton-based Lee Farms Excavating) to $1.64 million (from Ponton Beach, Fla.-based S. Shafer Excavating).

March 13: Upon the recommendation of Environmental Consultants, the school board votes to award the contract for demolition and environmental work to Lee Farms Excavating.

March 15: An architect for Environmental Consultants, Mike Ewald, sends contract forms to Lee Farms Excavating’s owner, Ken Lee, for his review. The contract forms include a drawing showing the “design, location and dimensions of the work.”

May 1: The demolition contract is signed by the school district’s superintendent, Cliff McClure, and Lee.

May 13: Andrew Heckenkamp, coordinator for the National Register of Historic Places, writes a letter to Paxton resident Jolen Anya Minetz informing her that “we believe (the PBL Eastlawn School) building would be eligible for listing in the National Register (of Historic Places) ... for its educational significance to the community of Paxton.” Minetz earlier had requested an evaluation of its eligibility.

May 14: The school board receives a letter from Landmarks Illinois, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the preservation of historic buildings in Illinois, asking for the Eastlawn building to be saved and possibly sold and repurposed. In the letter, Frank Butterfield, director of the group’s Springfield office, notes that “given the size of the project site, the demolition of Eastlawn will require a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for stormwater discharges” and, subsequently, “compliance with the Illinois state Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act,” which “requires written notice of the project to be submitted to the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for review.” Butterfield asks if the demolition plans will be submitted to the SHPO for its review, but he receives no response.

May 14: McClure sends an email to Jeff Faust of Environmental Consultants, asking if he has heard of Landmarks Illinois. Faust says he is familiar with the group and suggests getting the school district’s attorney involved. McClure sends an email to the school district's attorney, J. Christian Miller, saying he would talk to him the next day.

May 15: Minetz addresses the school board and asks it to reconsider its demolition plans.

May 20: McClure releases a statement to the Ford County Record stating that the school board “plans to continue to move forward” with tearing down the 94-year-old building and “act on the voters’ approval” to do so. McClure notes that since November 2016, when voters approved the issuance of building bonds to fund the project, among others, “at no time has anyone addressed or approached the board about repurposing Eastlawn Elementary.”

May 29: Susan Appel, president of the board of directors for the Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign County, writes a letter to school board members, encouraging them to “reconsider your current plan thoughtfully, taking into account all the alternatives recent correspondence and discussion have recommended.”

June 12: Frank Butterfield of Landmarks Illinois sends an email to school district officials asking when the district will be submitting its demolition plans to the SHPO in order to comply with the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act. Butterfield also asks if the district would halt demolition until such a review is complete. Butterfield receives no response.

June 18: Ewald of Environmental Consultants informs school district officials that he had spoken with the SHPO’s Anthony Rubano regarding the demolition project. “He indicated that since the building had already been deemed eligible for the National Register, the State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act would apply,” Ewald writes in an email. “The Act states that if there is a state license, permit or funding required, then the law ... is triggered and the project is subject to review by the SHPO. If (there is) no state permit, license or funding, then (there is) no review requirement and no action (is) required on the part of PBL. ... I contend that PBL is meeting all requirements for the project at this point.”

July 18: Upon the request of the school district, Cullom-based Krause Surveying Inc. completes a “plat of survey” on the Eastlawn property, showing 0.99 acres will be disturbed by excavation — just barely under the 1-acre threshold for which an IEPA permit and, subsequently, a review by the SHPO would be required. The survey shows a “do not disturb” area on the property’s southwest side.

July 31: Environmental Consultants’ Ewald sends a letter to the IEPA to “assist in your determination” of whether a permit for stormwater discharges will be necessary for the demolition of the Eastlawn building. Ewald informs the IEPA that “while the overall East Lawn Elementary School property is just over one acre in area, the actual disturbed area that will be associated with the demolition is less than one acre,” meaning no permit is required. Ewald provides the IEPA with a copy of the July 18 survey to confirm his statement.

Oct. 16: In response to inquiries from Landmarks Illinois and the Ford County Record, McClure releases two documents that Environmental Consultants submitted to the IEPA on the district’s behalf — Ewald’s July 31 letter to the IEPA and the July 18 survey of the Eastlawn property.

Oct. 17: The Ford County Record publishes a story detailing the information McClure provided the previous day. In the story, Landmarks Illinois’ Butterfield says he is “very surprised to see the project area altered to be one one-hundredth of an acre below the required threshold for a permit.” Butterfield notes that “this new area is reduced in size from the specifications in the project manual for demolition activities at Eastlawn, published in February.”

Oct. 17: IEPA spokesman Kim Biggs tells the Ford County Record that the agency is “working to determine if a stormwater permit will be necessary for the project.”

Oct. 18: Ewald sends a letter to the IEPA to “assist in your determination” of whether a permit for stormwater discharges will be necessary. Ewald tells the IEPA that Butterfield’s assertion that the excavation work’s scope had been reduced was based on a “misguided comparison” of the original bid specifications produced in February by Environmental Consultants and the boundary survey that followed in July. “The two are being incorrectly identified as indicating a reduced scope of work, when, in fact, the survey was undertaken to validate existing information and assist in managing the scope of work,” Ewald writes. Ewald stresses 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 comprise “the footprint of the building,” “associated site concrete” and “the abandoned septic system tank (and manholes).”

Oct. 21: Butterfield stands by his assertion that the scope of excavation appears to have been reduced from the original plans, telling the Ford County Record: “From our understanding of the February demolition plans, there were site elements indicated for removal that are now in an area marked ‘do not disturb,’ according to the latest site survey.”

Oct. 21: Lee Farms Excavating submits a revised notification form to the IEPA, indicating demolition of the Eastlawn building would begin Nov. 4 following the completion of asbestos abatement — instead of Nov. 18 as previously planned.

Oct. 25: Minetz sends a letter to the IEPA, stating there are “quite a few contradictory statements in Mr. Ewald’s letter that are worth noting.” Minetz writes: “Mr. Ewald alleged that in the Ford County Record article that he provided to you there was a misguided comparison between the original demolition specs that were posted in February and a survey that was conducted in July. ... Mr. Ewald stated that the two maps are ‘being incorrectly identified as indicating reduced scope of work’; however, if you examine the images it is clear that the proposed project was reduced, and not only in size, but also two specific elements were eliminated from the scope of work. Ironically, the elements that were eliminated are related to ‘drain/storm piping.’ If these had not been eliminated from the scope of work, ... their inclusion would make the site over 1 acre, which would then make this permit a requirement.”

Nov. 4: Demolition begins, three days after a Ford County judge denies Minetz’s request for a temporary restraining order prohibiting demolition from proceeding.

Nov. 6: Amy Dragovich, manager of the permit section for the IEPA’s Division of Water Pollution Control, responds to Minetz's letter, saying: "The agency's field office staff visited the site on October 16th to evaluate the area to be demolished. Based on the information provided, the project will not disturb one or more acres total land area. Therefore, coverage under the general NPDES permit for storm water discharges from construction site activities is not required."

Nov. 6: Minetz replies to Dragovich, asking whether the IEPA had reviewed the drawing in the Feb. 18 project manual or just the plat of survey completed in July. “It would be really nice to know if they excluded these elements (related to excavation in the Feb. 18 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."

Nov. 6: Dragovich replies to Minetz again. “Their consultant provided us a copy of the July 18, 2019, plat of survey showing the area to be disturbed,” Dragovich writes. “We also have copies of the February plan sheet. According to their consultant, the plan sheet included inaccurate information. Their engineer/contractor will have to evaluate whether any storm drainage or septic lines need to be removed. However, as long as they only disturb ground within the boundaries of the shaded area on the survey map, a storm water permit is not required.”

Nov. 6: Minetz writes back to Dragovich, asking if the school district’s consultant happened to mention what information in the plan sheet was inaccurate or when they realized the information was inaccurate.

Nov. 7: Dragovich responds to Minetz, saying: “When I talked to him earlier this week, we did not discuss specific inaccuracies in the plan sheet.”

Nov. 8: Ewald of Environmental Consultants sends an email to McClure indicating that he had reviewed the emailed correspondence between the IEPA and Minetz. In Ewald’s email to McClure, he says: “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. The disturbed area for the completion of this project is less than one acre in total area.”

Nov. 12: IEPA spokesman Kim Biggs responds to an email from the Ford County Record asking what specific inaccuracies Ewald had mentioned to the IEPA in regards to the Feb. 18 drawing. “I did check with our permit section manager, who spoke with the consultant,” Biggs writes 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 plan sheet.  I do not have any additional details related to this issue.” The school district’s superintendent and Ewald, meanwhile, both decline to respond to the Ford County Record’s request to clarify the situation.

Nov. 14: The Ford County Record confirms through a Freedom of Information Act request that the only addenda to the Feb. 18 project manual for the demolition work was the one dated March 1, which showed no changes to the drawing. The Record also confirms through a separate FOIA request that there were no contractual modifications issued after execution of the contract, including any change orders.

Nov. 19: In response to another FOIA request by the Ford County Record, the school district releases numerous engineer’s drawings and surveys completed on the Eastlawn property. 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 south of the to-be-built addition on the school’s west side. It appears that manhole is located in the July survey’s “do not disturb” area and in the same area where a manhole is referenced for removal in the drawing included in the Feb. 18 project manual.