IDOT postpones roundabout construction in Coral Township

State, historical society working together to preserve schoolhouse

UNION – The Illinois Department of Transportation’s ongoing effort to build a traffic circle at Route 20 and Harmony Road hit another snag after an historical, one-room schoolhouse near the intersection became a local landmark.

State transportation officials postponed their construction plans to assess how to best manage the historical structure, after the McHenry County Board last month unanimously granted landmark status to the Harmony Road schoolhouse. Construction was scheduled to start in spring 2014.

“We don’t have a preferred solution defined with what we will do with the property,” said John Baczek, IDOT project and environmental studies section chief. “Everything has been put on hold ... until we get through this process.”

The landmark status for the 1930s-era schoolhouse has forced transportation officials to determine how construction could affect the historical structure and identify ways to preserve it, Baczek said.

The transportation department already has discussed a potential solution with the McHenry County Historical Society in an informal meeting last month organized by state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry.

Kurt Begalka, the society’s administrator, said that transportation officials offered to pay to relocate the schoolhouse onto a new foundation and away from the intersection. In exchange, the society would have to find a landowner and ensure the owner preserves the building’s historical characteristics.

Begalka estimated that the relocation costs to the state could total at least $45,000. A potential landowner would receive the title to the schoolhouse for free, he said.

“We are interested in preserving a structure that is rapidly disappearing around the county,” Begalka said. “We think there is value in this structure. We are trying to find someone who thinks likewise.”

But Baczek stressed that the relocation deal with the historical society is not final. The transportation department could identify other options, he said.

The department potentially could build around the schoolhouse, but state officials said that would add more cost to the intersection project. Another option would be to demolish the schoolhouse and allow the society to preserve the historically significant items within it.

“We haven’t agreed to anything,” Baczek said. “Relocating is just a potential option on the table.”

State transportation officials already delayed construction last year on the roughly $4.5 million traffic circle at Route 20 and Harmony Road in Coral Township, after residents expressed issues with navigating a roundabout intersection.

The traffic circle is the safest alternative for an intersection labeled as being among the top 5 percent most dangerous in Illinois, transportation officials determined. Roughly 80 accidents, including two fatal ones, have been reported at the intersection from 2002 to 2012, state figures show.

Transportation officials now will try to determine a new construction timetable within the next few months as they grapple with the Harmony Road schoolhouse issue.

In the meantime, the historical society will try to identify either a public or private owner interested in using and maintaining the historical schoolhouse. The building, he said, could even work as an office space or a residence.

“It’s an opportunity to have an one-of-a-kind historic structure,” Begalka said.

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