Shelbyville City Council listened to a presentation about the condition of the historic Chautauqua Building at Forest Park. The room was packed. Discussion from the floor on the topic ensued, again. No decision was made, again.

Shelbyville City Council meetings can last 15 minutes, but with the Chautauqua on the agenda it went an hour and 45 minutes. Information about the condition of the Chautauqua and the cost to restore it or tear it down, hasn't changed much in 11 years. The community debate hasn't changed either. There is a sentimental desire to keep the building, but how much are people willing to pay to save it?

Rick Collins of Trillium Dell, a company that specializes in building and restoring timber structures around the Midwest, gave an "awesome" presentation, according to many comments from those who attended the meeting. The presentation was about the Chautauqua Building and examples of the work Trillium Dell has done. He did not report on the cosmetics or the roof deck of the building. What he reported on was just the structural integrity of the building.

"It is an efficient design," Collins said. "It is special. It is unusual. It actually meets current code. It is the only building I have see from that period that meets code from an engineering standpoint."

Collins said they did wood density checks and there is some rot, but that the building is only about 5-10% degraded. He also talked about the role these buildings fill and that they are disappearing.

"We have worked in other communities in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois on buildings like this for 20 years," Collins said. "They are all iconic and they all represent something. They are an illustration of the community and they are tourist attractions. They become a magnet. A lot of these building become event centers. These buildings (1885-1919) are part of our cultural heritage."

He gave an animated presentation of the Chautauqua structure and a slide show of other buildings they have restored. He then gave four options for going forward. The first was restoration of just the structural part of the building at an estimate of $396,474, That did not include siding, roof, etc. Later in discussion, it was noted that the 2008 estimate by another company was $1.2 million for total restoration, including bathrooms etc. Collins said that cost today could be roughly the same for the whole package.

Collins also gave a breakdown of replacing the Chautauqua with a new building with the original design. That estimate was $1.02 million for the frame and $171,000 for the decking with no stage or enclosure system. Option #3 was to build another building, but not round. The rectangle building replacement would cost $920,880, again just for the frame. The 4th option was demolition, to include capping the storm sewer, etc. That estimate was $158,623.

Someone asked about dismantling the historic building and moving it to another location. Collins addressed that.

"We are losing buildings like this in Illinois," Collins said. "Illinois buildings are going out west, out east, to the south. One building from Frankfort, Illinois is going to Utah."

"A lot of places around the country would value having that building in their park," Shelbyville City Park Commissioner Mark Shanks. "It is the centerpiece of the park, of the community, as an event center. It is my purpose to be a steward of our facilities that we are entrusted with for a short period of time. Its part of the attraction to our city. We need to be careful before taking them away. Every city has a McDonald's and a Walmart."

Well-meaning and civil discussion ensued from the floor and the commissioners, bringing up many pertinent issues to consider. The discussion spanned different age groups, long-time residents, and even newcomers to the community. One commissioner questioned how many people would drive 200 miles to see a building. One newcomer said they did.

"They talk about it up north," she said. "We just moved here. I found four places just today that will provide funding. I was impressed. There is a way to do it. It takes paper work, but I'm willing to help."

No decision was made, because the consensus in the room was that the public needs to be polled about something this costly and because there was more information that needs to be gathered, beyond the structural presentation by Trillium Dell.

"I didn't estimate the roofing, the siding and the lateral load, a general contractor could do that, but we've provided the information needed for that next step," Collins said.

Commissioner Thom Schafer repeated his position on making a decision.

"I do not feel comfortable deciding on something of this magnitude without hearing from the public," Schafer said.

County Treasurer Erica Firnhaber and Shelbyville resident asked if this was something that could be put on the ballot to let the people decide. Mayor Jeff Johnson said yes it could.

John Curtis can be reached at

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