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posted: 8/20/2010 12:01 AM

Warren Twp. beat out of land bid by high school

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Warren Township High School officials agreed Thursday to borrow nearly $8 million to purchase 100 acres northwest of Gurnee Mills in a move proponents say will allow for proper planning.

If the deal closes as expected, the high school will wind up with 50 acres that Warren Township government had planned to purchase to develop athletic fields and a preserve. About 300 voters at a town-hall meeting last year approved buying the land for sports fields.

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Phil Sobocinski, superintendent of Gurnee-based Warren District 121, said the 100 acres near Stearns School Road and Mill Creek Drive will allow for great flexibility in planning.

For example, Sobocinski said Thursday, Warren one day may need the whole 100 acres for the high school's needs or decide to sell half to developers. Another option could be reselling the land to recoup the purchase price or at a profit, he said.

"It buys the board time to make a long-range plan," Sobocinski said.

Warren High has 30 days to close the deal with Inland Real Estate Group of Companies Inc., Sobocinski said. He said the district expects a roughly 3 percent annual interest rate for the $7.9 million loan that may be paid off early without penalty.

As for Warren Township government, Supervisor Suzanne Simpson said she'll look for other sites that may be affordable for athletic field construction. She said the township would have paid $4 million for the 50 acres by Gurnee Mills, but was trumped by the high school's ability to buy the whole parcel faster.

Simpson said Warren Township was awarded a $750,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to help pay for the land. She said the money can't be used for another property and that a similar grant can't be obtained for three years.

Plans called for three football fields, four baseball/softball diamonds, two lacrosse fields and a preserve on the 50 acres. The spending of the $4 million on the land was approved 294-196 by registered voters at the town-hall session in October 2009.

"It's a disappointment, but our (land) hunt continues," Simpson said.

District 121's board Thursday voted 5-1 in favor of borrowing the nearly $8 million for the 100 acres in unincorporated Lake County. Board member Richard Conley was the lone dissenter in a telephone vote.

Conley said the high school should have commissioned a demographic study before seeking the land for potential expansion or other reasons.

"It's not our role to be land speculators," Conley said.

Officials have noted there are about 6,000 undeveloped acres within Warren's boundaries.

Land: Warren Twp. now must restart search

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