Supporters of a tax hike to fund the conversion of the former Libertyville High School into a community center will have some convincing to do ahead of the March primary, given the reaction at the first public forum on the proposal.
About 150 people, not counting the village staff or elected officials, jammed the Libertyville Civic Center on Monday evening for the first of three town-hall meetings to learn about the plan that would cost the owner of a home valued at $300,000 an extra $136 for each of the next 10 years.
Voters on March 18 will be asked whether the village should be allowed to issue up to $11.5 million in bonds to convert the nearly century-old school, known as the Brainerd building, into a multipurpose facility. Uses would include community theater, banquets and weddings as well as a senior center and other operations of the Libertyville Civic Center, which would be relocated as part of the proposal.
But more than two dozen attendees in what appeared to be a skeptical crowd questioned several aspects of the proposal, including the need for a facility when the civic center is only 21 percent occupied. Estimated operating revenue was another figure that drew heat, as the village would be on the hook if the venue did not pay for itself.
"There's no evident need," said Jim Engdahl, who owns property in the downtown area. "If I was a farmer, I would say this deal was a pig in a poke."
Longtime businessman Jack Martin, who is well-known for his opposition to tax hikes and tactics to defeat them, said he thought the proposal didn't have a chance of passing.
"We do not need another white elephant," he said. "We've got the Sports Complex. We should learn a lesson from that."
The buildings are owned by the Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, which since 2006 has leased them to the village. The village in turn leases them to Brainerd Community Center Inc., the nonprofit group that for seven years has sought to convert the school into a community center.
The village board agreed to put the question on the ballot on the Brainerd group's behalf but is not taking a stance. All involved acknowledge a negative vote will end the quest and the school district will tear down the buildings.
Mayor Terry Weppler opened the session with a 40-minute slideshow covering the history of the buildings as well as images of what the new facility would look like and information such as projected costs, cash flow projections and scenarios if the voters approve or reject the measure.
Weppler emphasized the village could not vouch for the accuracy of figures such as proposed revenues, which were provided by the Brainerd group.
Voter approval would not obligate the board to issue the bonds, and the village was reluctant to spend money on detailed studies before knowing the public sentiment.
"The whole purpose is to educate the voters," Weppler said. "Here's what you could have. Here's what it would cost you. Tell us what you want."
Town hall meetings also are scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 12 and March 6th at the civic center, 135 W. Church St.
An opposition group, which surfaced this past weekend, has its views posted at www.itsaNOBrainerd.com.