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updated: 3/6/2014 5:51 PM

Proposed community center plans in Libertyvile heat up

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  • Rendering of the proposed Brainerd Coummunity Center in Libertyville.

      Rendering of the proposed Brainerd Coummunity Center in Libertyville.
    Courtesy of The Hezner Corporation

 
 

Sniping on both sides continues as the day of reckoning nears for the future of a shuttered Libertyville landmark.

Claims of misinformation, confusion and deception regarding a proposal to save the former Libertyville High School, known as the Brainerd building, are swirling as campaigns on both sides intensify.

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Voters on March 18 will decide whether to authorize village officials to borrow up to $11.5 million by issuing bonds to rehabilitate the building, which has been vacant since 2003, and pay $350,000 in lease payments.

Voters will can hear the presentation, ask questions or just speak their minds at the third and final town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Libertyville Civic Center, 135 W. Church St.

"It may get a little hostile," Mayor Terry Weppler said.

Recent weeks have been marked by the emergence of look-a-like websites, yard signs, mailings and other activities that have raised issues on both sides.

Opponents led by Libertyville resident Joe Bean, who established the itsanobrainerd citizens group, this past weekend unveiled a second website, savebrainerd.com, which takes visitors to a frequently asked questions page.

"I thought it was necessary to have a place we could present complete information about aspects of the proposal," said Bean, who added he has owned the site for a year but just decided to activate it.

John Snow, spokesman for Brainerd group, said supporters have been fighting "bad faith efforts," and that opponents "hijacked" the group's website by activating the new site. Brainerd supporters now refer visitors to brainerdcenter.org.

"It's not that unusual for partisan party politics but it's unusual to see that in a referendum environment," Snow said.

Supporters have been criticized for using the not-for-profit's funds to pay for three batches of color mailings. Snow said those are informational only and there is a "relatively narrow window" in the rules allowing a charitable group to do so.

There are other nuances. Weppler, who will give the presentation and moderate the public forum, said in a message on the village website that despite a village hall address, the Brainerd group mailing was not paid for or endorsed by the village.

"It looks like we're advocating for them and we're not," he said. The village board has not taken an official stance on the issue.

Supporters say saving the nearly century old school will provide Libertyville with space for banquets, weddings, theatrical productions and other uses, and preserve an historical landmark.

The work would require moving the Civic Center programs and cash balance to Brainerd. The village owns the Civic Center building but its governing body has voted against the move.

While it isn't mentioned specifically in the ballot question, the net result of the village bond issue would be a 10-year tax hike, amounting to an estimated $142 each year for the owner of a home valued at $300,000.

Opponents question whether the operation can sustain itself and argue that village funds -- besides those to pay the bond principal and interest -- will be needed to keep it afloat.

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