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updated: 5/16/2011 12:57 PM

Grant for Vernon Hills library five years overdue

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  • The Cook Memorial Public Library District's Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills opened last year, but a promised $500,000 state grant never was delivered.

       The Cook Memorial Public Library District's Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills opened last year, but a promised $500,000 state grant never was delivered.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • State Sen. Terry Link

      State Sen. Terry Link

 
 

When state Sen. Terry Link and then-Rep. Kathy Ryg surprised Cook Memorial Public Library District leaders in 2006 by pledging $500,000 toward the construction of a new library in Vernon Hills, officials were thrilled.

That's not the case these days.

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More than five years have passed, and the library district hasn't received a dime of the promised money. The library has since been built for about $7 million and will celebrate its anniversary in July.

Ryg left the General Assembly in 2009. When the Daily Herald asked Link about the missing grant later that year, he said his staff would look into the matter to ensure the money was made available.

"We will make sure we fulfill this commitment," the Waukegan Democrat said at the time.

But no one did. And library board President Bonnie Quirke isn't happy.

"I think it was a political ploy," Quirke said, virtually repeating an accusation she made against Link when the Daily Herald wrote about the situation in 2009. "I think Terry Link used the full power of his political office for his benefit and not necessarily the benefit of the library."

Link could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Senate Democrats said Link is aware of the outstanding issue with the library and is working to ensure the funding commitment is honored.

Although a specific funding source wasn't identified in 2006, the money was expected to either come from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity or be part of a planned $31 billion capital construction program. It was to be paid out gradually as construction took place at the library, which opened last year on Aspen Drive south of Route 60.

Even though the grant expired before construction began in 2009, Link said the funding would come.

"I'm not going to let this slip through the cracks," he said that year.

But Mary Ellen Stembal, Cook Memorial's assistant director, said library officials haven't heard from anyone about the promised money.

Given the state's ongoing financial problems, Stembal understands if the money dried up.

"But it's a concern that money was committed and then not delivered," she said.

Back when Link and Ryg announced the grant, Lake County's Republican leader at the time, Dan Venturi, blasted Link's pledge as "election pork." Link denied that accusation then.

Quirke, who's active in Republican politics, said she thinks Link promised the money to get some positive publicity during the 2006 campaign season.

"He got his name all over the place, and those were dollars we really could have used," Quirke said. "We still could use them."

Stembal admitted she hasn't thought about the grant since the Daily Herald last wrote about the matter. Lately she's been more worried about some annual state funding officials have feared wouldn't come through.

Lawmakers are now crafting the next year's state budget, which so far includes proposed cuts to the state commerce department and other agencies.

State Rep. Carol Sente, the Vernon Hills Democrat who succeeded Ryg, believes the Cook Memorial commitment should be honored but acknowledged the state's financial problems. With the 2009 state construction bill tied up in court because of constitutional concerns, "there's really no money going out in that area," she said.

Stembal said she isn't expecting a check to show up anytime soon.

"Not that we wouldn't be appreciative if it did," she said. "It would be nice to get the money."

• Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell contributed to this report.

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