MATTOON -- Several structural issues in and around the former Brown Shoe Factory building are not leaving much room for anything other than demolition in its future based on comments made at a Mattoon school board meeting Tuesday.
“Really, I don’t think the building can be saved,” said Kent Metzger, facilities engineer for Mattoon schools.
Most of the 1920s-era building at 1400 Piatt Ave. has stood vacant for years. The Mattoon school district purchased the property in the mid-1960s, and it once housed students and maintenance equipment.
The students have since been moved from the property with the construction of the newer elementary school buildings. Now, only a one-story section of the building remains in use along with a later built steel structure for bus maintenance and storage.
Metzger said the building has experienced consistent deterioration over the years.
The main three-story portion of the facility has had significant roof failures, masonry cracking and other structural issues including a separation between the western wing, which was a later addition to the building, and the rest of the building.
“There are increasing liability concerns for a number of reasons,” he said. “Actually, the last time we went through it with the insurance auditor, he didn’t even want to go into the building.”
Demolition and the other costs associated with keeping the property would be immense, said Tom Sherman, Mattoon assistant superintendent of business. He said the project would cost the district roughly $1.3 million, prompting district officials to seek out potential buyers.
At the Tuesday meeting, school board members voted to allow district officials to solicit for bids on the property. The bid opening will start at 3 p.m. April 3, and they would potentially have bids the school board could vote on at its next meeting.
Should they sell the property, another location will be needed for the bus fleet, storage and a fueling station. Such a property would also house maintenance, food and transportation services for the district. Sherman said the district has already started looking at different properties and possibilities, but they are still in the beginning stages of exploration of options. Nothing has been decided, Sherman said.
Sherman said if the district comes up empty with bids on the property, officials will have to reassess the issue. Metzger noted that the building is not in imminent danger of collapse, but it is an issue that will have to be resolved.
“We don't want to wait to that point (of imminent collapse) to make a decision,” Metzger said.
The district is simply being proactive and seeing the viability of the options they have on the table, officials noted. It was on the “back burner” for a while, and now seems a good time to act in some capacity, Sherman indicated.
This discussion was addressed once before in 2008 when the board was deciding to use the adjacent property that formerly housed a bread store.
Also at the Tuesday meeting, it was announced that Jeremie Smith, Mattoon Middle School principal, will be leaving the district this summer. Smith has been a part of the district for 18 years, serving as a language arts teacher and high school football coach as well as a principal. He served as the MMS principal for 10 years.
He will be serving as the principal for the Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School in Greenville, S.C.
“There is just far too many people to thank,” Smith said. “I just love the kids so much. I am going to miss this situation a lot.”