Brainerd deal tweaked in Libertyville
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A volunteer group wants to turn the long-closed Brainerd school building in Libertyville into a community center.
The deal that could allow a volunteer group to turn the long-unused Brainerd building in Libertyville into a community center is being tweaked.
The Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 board agreed Monday to give village leaders and project organizers more time to decide if they are going to start making lease payments and proceed with the proposed renovation.
A decision had been due in early August, but now village officials have until October to make up their minds, District 128 board President Pat Groody said.
Located on Route 176 east of the current Libertyville High campus, the Brainerd classroom building and the adjoining Jackson gymnasium were shuttered in 2000 because of health and safety concerns.
The school board struck a deal with the village board in 2006 to give the village and community volunteers control of the property.
District 128 officials long have backed the community center plan and continue to do so, Superintendent Prentiss Lea said.
"The board is still supportive of them trying to make a go of it," Lea said.
But the money needed to make the plan a reality hasn't come easily. Earlier this year, the school board voted to extend the date an initial $250,000 lease payment is due, from this December to 2014.
If the group and village leaders decide to scuttle the project, control of the land will revert to the District 128 board.
In addition to the new deadline, both sides recently learned a maximum 25-year lease is possible under state law, Groody said. The contract for the property now calls for a 50-year lease and must be changed.
Groody said attorneys will adjust the deal to make it a 25-year lease. But the contract will include a clause that calls for financial compensation if a future school board opts not to renew when it expires, he said.
That way, proponents of the community center plan will be reimbursed for work they've done on the site if the school board resumes control of the buildings.
Groody and Lea hope that won't happen, however.
"The intent is to extend it," Groody said.
The economy has hurt the group's ability to raise funds, but the volunteers remain optimistic about the proposal, said Walt Oakley, a Brainerd Community Center board member.
"Right now we're in the doldrums, and we have to work through it," Oakley said.
Supporters are discussing drafting a nonbinding referendum for a future ballot to see if Libertyville residents would favor increasing property taxes to pay for the project, Oakley said.
The Brainerd building occasionally is opened to the public for special events or tours. Despite the decade-long closure, Libertyville High athletes continue to practice and play on the Brainerd fields.
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