Metro East school board approves controversial plan to tear down church

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by Chris Stanford / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 10:03 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 14 at 11:07 PM

(KMOV) -- A plan to buy a church and have it demolished making more room for a school was approved unanimously Monday night by the Edwardsville Community Unit School District #7 Board of Education.

First Presbyterian Church has stood at E College St. and N Kansas St. since 1923.  Across the street from the church is Columbus Elementary School, which is landlocked in the heart of the city. Since First Presbyterian is moving locations, the school district is pursuing a plan to buy the church and have it torn down to make room for a parking lot, and better busing lanes.
 
The plan faces opposition from neighbors, including Gordon Burnside.           
 
“It's gonna ruin this whole neighborhood,” says Burnside.
 
Monday night’s vote asked the board to approve the purchase of the property and fund the church demolition and clean up.  The district plans to put in a parking lot where the church is today.
 
“This is one of Edwardsville's oldest neighborhoods and they’re gonna turn most of it into a parking lot, I can't imagine worse damage than that,” says Burnside.
 
School board President Jill Bertels said the changes are for student safety.
 
“We have had two students that have been injured by cars at other schools, but not at Columbus,” said Bertels.
 
Funding the project is also controversial.  News 4 reported in December that the district is facing a $3,000,000 budget shortfall.  The price tag for the Columbus project is $1,300,000.  Bertels says $850,000 is for purchasing the church and $450,000 is for demolition and to properly clean up asbestos.
 
The money would come from impact fees which is designated for specific projects such as buying property and improving buildings, Bertels said adding the money will be paid off in 10 years.
 
“It's definitely a good use for that money since it's not able to be used for the general fund where it can be used for payroll or books or anything like that,” said Bertels.
 
The school board president says Monday night’s vote was 6-0 with one member being absent.  She defined it as a multi-year project.
 
Any changes to the layout of nearby city streets at the project site for bus lanes would need approval from the City of Edwardsville.

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