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City seeks bids for old school demolition

The future of the old elementary school has been a question for the city of Morris since the city purchased the building in 2005. On Tuesday, the Morris City Council approved a plan for demolishing the building and opened the project up for bids. The council will likely make a decision on the bids at their meeting on March 26.

MORRIS -- After more than eight years of discussion about re-use and redevelopment, the Morris City Council has moved one step closer to tearing down the old elementary school at their meeting Tuesday by approving plans for demolition and issuing a call for bids.

Chuck DeWolf, project engineer with Bolton and Menk, estimated the demolition would cost between $1 and $1.1 million, but he noted that figure would likely depend on how much material the contractor estimates they can salvage from the building.

Under the project plan, contractors would remove the entire building, including the footings, foundation and hazardous materials, then fill and re-seed the open area to prepare it for future development, DeWolf explained.

The project will open for bids on March 21, and bids will be reviewed by the council at their regular meeting on March 26.

The question of what to do with the building has been on the city's plate since the city purchased the building from the Morris Area School District for $1 in 2005. The property, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, was the focus of redevelopment plans in the intervening years.

However, the economic downturn of 2008, which put a damper on investments in residential property and redevelopment, seemed to be the end for plans to reuse the old building.

In late 2012, the council moved forward with a plan to use Tax Increment Financing to help cover the costs of demolishing the building to prepare the property to be sold to a developer.

Before approving the demolition plan, city council members grilled DeWolf and city staff about safety at the site and project management during the demolition process.

According to the project plans, contractors will take all debris away from the site along Seventh Street out to Highway 59. Council member Kevin Wohlers asked whether residents along Seventh Street and houses neighboring the site would be protected from dust and materials during the demolition processes.

“We know there’s hazardous materials in there, and with people living right across the street, are those people going to be safe?” Wohlers asked.

DeWolf said there are provisions in the plans to address these concerns, as well as a set work period from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be a certified inspector on-site to oversee the hazardous materials removal.

When the contractor takes over the site, they will assume all liability for all safety and materials removal from the site, DeWolf said.

City Manager Blaine Hill said he thinks there will be a bigger safety concern with onlookers standing around the site during the project trying to watch.

Morris Police Chief Jim Beauregard said the MPD will also work with the contractor to make sure fences are up each night and to patrol the truck routes to make sure the contractor is complying with all requirements.

“We have a part in the safety and security of that whole neighborhood,” said Beauregard. “Security will be a big issue for that site.”

Council member Bill Storck asked whether there would be a city representative on the site to oversee the project. DeWolf said that someone would check in periodically, but staff estimated the project would move quickly.

“I don't envision somebody going in there and taking their sweet old time with tearing this thing down,” said Hill.

After several rounds of questions, council member Jeff Miller summed up his position: “It's an eye sore. It's infested. It's a pit. We have to get rid of it, I think. … It's not going away until we deal with it.”

If the project goes as planned, demolition could start as early as April and be finished by July. However, council member Brian Solvie also pointed out that the demolition is still not finalized and the council still wants feedback on the project from the community.

“You actually have a voice to come in to these meetings before we actually accept a bid,” said Solvie. “I haven't heard anything, but I think it's kind of important to let people know … it's not a done deal. Although we do plan to move forward, we'd love to hear from you.”

The next step for the project – once the council officially decides what to do about the building – is to sell the property, Hill said.

“We don't want to sit on it,” he said. “We are maintaining it … you really want to get that property back into production.”

Hill told the council that he will bring a recommendation in March on next steps for the property. It will likely involve developing a request for proposals from developers to see what they would like to do with the property and how much they might pay for it, Hill said.

“It's going to be interesting to see what [developers'] real interest is,” said Hill.

Other business

• The council scheduled a public hearing on the possible sale of up to $6 million in bonds to Service Options for Seniors to finance building projects in Morris and Hancock.

According to the notice, the bonds will be used to refinance the cost of improvements to Skyview Plaza  and Skyview Court in Morris and Walnut Court in Hancock. It will also help finance the purchase of additional property in Morris between County Road 10 and Highway 59.

Service Options for Seniors originally approached the city of Hancock to finance the bonds, but when Service Options for Seniors would not switch their bond attorney Hancock elected not to finance the project, said Hill.

The council will hear more details about the project at the public hearing on Tuesday, March 26 at 5:20 p.m.

• The council authorized city staff to sell three city vehicles on a state auction site.

Joey Daniewicz contributed to this story.