A seven-year quest to revive the former Libertyville High School building as a community center fell hard Tuesday with voters overwhelmingly rejecting a tax hike to pay for the $11.5 million project.
While not mentioned specifically on the ballot, a tax hike would have been the net effect of the question put to voters in what became a volatile and emotional issue over the future of the nearly century-old red brick landmark known as the Brainerd building.
With all 17 precincts reporting, unofficial totals showed 881 votes in favor of authorizing the village to borrow up to $11.5 million by issuing bonds, and a whopping 4,086 against.
"The people of Libertyville made a really fiscally responsible decision. The numbers just didn't make sense, and we think that's what the people in Libertyville realized," said Joe Bean, a Cook Memorial Public Library District board member and organizer of itsanobrainerd.com.
The result means the building, which opened in 1917 a few blocks from downtown at Route 176 and Brainerd Avenue -- and the adjoining Jackson Gym -- likely will be demolished by the owner, Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128. The buildings probably will be replaced with parking and athletic fields.
Opponents had argued the community center proposal was ill-advised not only because of a lack of detailed business plan and the tax hike, but because the village would have been responsible for any operating shortfalls.
Voters were asked whether the village should be allowed to borrow up to $11.5 million by issuing bonds to rehab the structure, which has been vacant since 2003. Had the measure had passed, the cost to the owner of a house valued at $300,000 would have paid about $142 more for each of the next 10 years -- about a cup of coffee per week, supporters argued.
While praising the commitment of a core group that has fought to transform the old school into a venue for banquets, wedding receptions, local theater and other uses, opponents cited a lack of private donations over the years as a sign the community did not support saving the sentimental landmark.
Bean said he had "great respect" for core supporters, but thought the venture was not fiscally responsible.
"I would say that we presented the opportunity to our neighbors to preserve some of our heritage and provide a multipurpose facility, but obviously it was an idea whose time just wasn't here," said John Snow, spokesman for the Brainerd Community Center Inc.
"We are here listening to the community. Our effort basically will be ending," he added.