PAXTON — It remains unclear whether the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district will need to obtain any permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency before moving forward with the demolition of the historic PBL Eastlawn School building.
Consequently, it remains unclear whether the district will also need to consult the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to evaluate ways to eliminate or minimize the project’s adverse effect on historic resources.
PBL Superintendent Cliff McClure has said his school district “will follow the law” when tearing down the 94-year-old building at 341 E. Center St. in Paxton this fall.
However, McClure and members of the school board have declined to respond to questions from the Ford County Record about what the law will require. Paxton-based Lee Farms Excavating, which has been contracted to do the demolition work, also declined comment, referring questions to McClure.
As of last week, McClure and the school board had also not responded to a similar inquiry from Frank Butterfield of the nonprofit organization Landmarks Illinois, which is working to save the historic building.
Butterfield wrote in a letter to school district officials in May that if the building is torn down as planned, the district likely will be required to first obtain a permit from the IEPA related to “stormwater discharges associated with construction site activities.”
If a state permit is required, Butterfield added, the district will also be required by state law to consult the SHPO to evaluate alternatives that “could eliminate, minimize or mitigate” the project’s “adverse effect” on historic resources.
With the SHPO having determined in May that the building is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, Butterfield said “it is established that Eastlawn is a historic resource” and “demolition, as the indicated course of action by the school district, is clearly an adverse effect.”
Instead of tearing down PBL Eastlawn School at a cost of $1.15 million to taxpayers, Landmarks Illinois and some Paxton residents think the building should instead be marketed for sale — something that was never done before the district decided to enter into the demolition contract — and be repurposed.
McClure and the school board, however, have repeatedly stated their intention to move forward with the project as planned, noting that the public had approved a ballot question related to the demolition project and the expansion and renovation of Clara Peterson Elementary School almost three years ago.
Whether the district will be able to move forward on the project when it plans to — or if at all — remains to be seen, though. It is possible that the SHPO review process, if required, could stall demolition or even lead to an alternative outcome.
Anthony Rubano, a project designer for the SHPO, said only demolition projects that require a state or federal permit or that receive state or federal funding are required to consult the SHPO in accordance with the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act. Rubano confirmed last week that the PBL school district had not asked for a review of its project.
The IEPA, meanwhile, had not received an application for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for PBL’s project. According to the IEPA’s website, “construction sites that disturb one acre or more are required to have coverage under the NPDES general permit for stormwater discharges from construction site activities,” including demolition. Land disturbance means “exposed soil due to clearing, grading or excavation activities,” the IEPA’s website said.
Whether PBL’s project requires an NPDES permit remains unclear. According to the Ford County Supervisor of Assessments Office, the 320-by-160-foot lot occupying PBL Eastlawn School totals 1.17 acres, but the school building itself totals only half an acre.
IEPA spokesman Kim Biggs said her agency could not comment on whether such a permit would be required.
“I just heard back from our permit section, and we do not have an application for a stormwater permit for this project,” Biggs said in an email Friday. “Until the agency receives information on the project, we cannot confirm if a stormwater discharge permit is required.”