Illinois News

Pittsfield residents, EPA frustrated that Higbee School demolition stalled

The site of the former Higbee School last year in Pittsfield. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the property owner last year threatening legal action if cleanup did not begin. The city has a plan that would help the property owner clear the lot. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 19, 2017 8:35 am Updated: May. 19, 2017 8:37 am

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The city of Pittsfield is looking to finally clear the former Higbee School after years of going back and forth with its owner.

Demolition of the building began in spring 2014 but stalled. The building on West Adams Street, owned by Charles Dolbeare, has drawn complaints from neighbors and gained the attention of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

"The owner still says there's an investor he wants to check with," Mayor John Hayden said.

Hayden and the Pittsfield City Council want Dolbeare to appear at the next council meeting to offer an update on the demolition. Hayden wants to know "who he has and how he is going to make it work for everyone."

The IEPA sent Dolbeare a letter in June giving him 30 days to begin work at the site. The city also received a copy of that letter, which said that if no progress is made, the IEPA could ask the attorney general's office to pursue legal action. Dolbeare has to regularly update the IEPA on the progress of the cleanup, Hayden said.

"It's been an eyesore for years and years," he said. "We just want it taken care of."

Hayden wants to see the demolition completed by the end of the summer.

"We have a plan to help him, to help us, and it wouldn't cost the city over $50,000," he said. "If this worked, we could sell the property to recoup our money. It's a prime spot."

If the city were to buy the property, debris would need to be cleared, and the lot would need to be leveled and seeded before being sold.

The building was constructed as a high school in 1908 and used as a junior high beginning in 1955. Its last eighth-grade class graduated in 1996. The Pikeland School District sold the building in January 1997.

Plans unveiled in 2008 called for a $2 million renovation that would have converted the building into specialty shops, a restaurant, lodging, a banquet facility and a 24-hour fitness center. However, the project never materialized.

The former school later housed a community recreational facility and was used for storage before sitting empty. The Pike County Historical Society, Pittsfield Main Street and other community groups have tried unsuccessfully to save the building.

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