Brainerd group may gauge public support for community center project
Converting the shuttered former Libertyville High School and Jackson Gym into a community center long has been the goal of civic supporters. But with a full restoration pegged at $10 million to $15 million, raising money has been a struggle.
Instead, the Brainerd Community Center Inc., a not-for-profit group that has been working for several years on the plan, is narrowing its focus and may be asking for help from voters.
"We're kind of at a crossroads in what we're trying to get accomplished," said Scott Adams, a member of the group's executive committee. "We thought maybe we should look at doing a nonbinding referendum in the spring."
While the roof has been secured and heat and electric service restored, there is a long haul before the nearly century-old building at Route 176 and Brainerd Avenue could open for business.
"We need to get to the point where we start utilizing the building," Adams said. "We're trying to show the community, `Here's something that's viable, we can open the doors.'"
Adams estimated it would take about $2.6 million for that to happen. Whether voters would be willing to foot that bill in some fashion is the question that may be asked next spring.
But there are some complicating factors. The buildings are owned by Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 and leased to the village, which in turn subleases them to the community center group.
Village officials likely would want a say in whether the village would back an effort that theoretically could result in higher payments for residents.
Would property taxes be increased to do the work? If so, how much?
"There are a lot of missing links. The first thing is their wording and what they're trying to get to," Village Administrator Kevin Bowens said.
The village board recently agreed to allow David Pardys, the village attorney, to review the potential language.
The lease gave the Brainerd group several years without payments to determine the level of support, though it does pay the monthly insurance bill. Originally, the first lease payment of $250,000 from the village was due last Dec. 1, but the term was extended for three years. The lease calls for an annual payment of $50,000 thereafter.
During its five-year existence, the community center group has raised about $100,000, which has been used for repairs. If a concrete revenue source can't be identified within six months, "We're going to have to make a hard decision whether we should continue," Adams said.
Brainerd, the first high school in Lake County, was built in 1917 and the adjoining gym added in 1929. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places but that doesn't mean they can't be demolished.
"We know there's a mixed sentiment about the property," Adams said.
A hefty crowd is expected this Saturday, Aug. 25, for the third annual North Shore Wine, Beer, Cigar & Food Festival, the community center's largest fundraiser.
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