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updated: 8/28/2013 10:03 AM

Voters could decide fate of former Libertyville High

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  • Libertyville is planning a binding referendum to determine the future of the Brainerd building. Voters will have to decide whether renovating the former school is worth paying more in property taxes.

      Libertyville is planning a binding referendum to determine the future of the Brainerd building. Voters will have to decide whether renovating the former school is worth paying more in property taxes.
    PAUL VALADE | Staff Photographer, 2009


What is likely the last chance to renovate the former Libertyville Township High School for a performing arts and community center will need taxpayers' help.

Efforts to educate the public on the benefit of paying more in property taxes to allow the village to borrow $8 million for the Brainerd building conversion will become more visible in advance of the March 18 primary election.

The binding referendum, to be put on the ballot by the village, once and for all is expected to determine the future of the long-shuttered school at Brainerd Avenue and Route 176, just south of downtown.

"We need to move forward on this," Mayor Terry Weppler said. "We need to decide one way or the other what we're going to do."

Initial information shows the owner of a house valued at $300,000 would pay $80 more in property tax each year for the 10-year life of bonds that would be sold.

Weppler said an "objective" ad hoc committee consisting of Trustee Todd Gaines and community members will be formed to gather and disseminate information regarding the project. Two or three public town hall-style meetings likely will be held early next year, he added.

"Our goal, right now, is to start educating the public and have them tell us what they want us to do," Weppler said.

Asking for voter input is not an unexpected action. Brainerd Community Center Inc., a nonprofit group that for years has championed the cause of the renovation, flirted with the idea last year in presentations to the village board. Village board approval is needed to put a tax hike question on the ballot.

General wording that would have asked voters whether they supported the Brainerd conversion, coupled with village board questions regarding operating expenses and other financial aspects of the plan, prompted the group to withdraw the idea before a vote.

Without a deep-pocketed contributor on the horizon, the organization needs to know whether its effort can or should continue.

"That's what we've concluded. It's time for the community to step up and tell us if they want to spend the money on a community center or not," said John Snow, a member of the organization's executive committee.

"That would be funded with a tax increase, which is the hard part," he added. "However, we need an answer."

The campaign revved up this past Saturday as a full page of information outlining why residents are being asked to "Save Brainerd for the Arts" was available at the annual North Shore Wine, Beer, Cigar & Food Festival fundraiser held on the building grounds.

Restoring the building would cost an estimated $6.75 million and would not include any work to the Jackson Gym, which would be done as a separate project. The difference from the $8 million being sought would be held in escrow to ensure the annual $50,000 lease payment to Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 would be available.

The school district owns Brainerd, built in 1916, and the gym, which was built in 1929. In 2006, the buildings were leased to the village, which subleases them to the Brainerd group.

If voters reject a tax increase, the building likely would be torn down, the group contends, and the village would be on the hook for significant expenses.

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