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updated: 6/25/2014 6:12 PM

Libertyville's Brainerd buildings could be demolished in October

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  • The former Brainerd Building, which opened as Libertyville Township High School in 1917, is headed for demolition. So is the adjoining Jackson Gym.

       The former Brainerd Building, which opened as Libertyville Township High School in 1917, is headed for demolition. So is the adjoining Jackson Gym.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer 2012

 
 

The buildings on what once was Libertyville High School's Brainerd Avenue campus could face the wrecking ball in October, officials said this week.

Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 administrators plan to use the land for athletic fields and parking. Bids and updated cost estimates for asbestos removal and demolition are pending, officials said.

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The original estimates, now several years old, set the price for the work at $600,000 to $700,000, Superintendent Prentiss Lea told the Daily Herald in an email.

Officials hope to get proposals from demolition firms in September, Lea said.

"It will be sad to see the buildings come down, as so many area residents and former graduates ... have such wonderful memories there," Lea said.

A community group had wanted to turn the Brainerd Building and Jackson Gym into a civic center, but the plans never got enough funding to move forward.

The site's fate was solidified in March when Libertyville voters rejected spending tax dollars on the project, which by then was focused solely on the Brainerd Building.

The Jackson Gym would have been demolished either way.

Lea thanked the Brainerd Preservation Committee -- the group behind the community-center proposal -- for trying to bring the project to life.

"It would be difficult to find a more dedicated and passionate group of citizens working to make a community project a reality," Lea said.

The Brainerd Building opened as Libertyville Township High School in 1917, just east of the current Libertyville High on Route 176. The Jackson Gym followed in 1929.

After the current high school opened in 1954. the Brainerd Building was turned into a freshmen-only facility.

All classroom education there ceased in 1999 when Vernon Hills High School opened. Athletic activities continued, however.

Renovating the buildings for student use would have cost $14 million to $16 million, District 128 spokeswoman Mary Todoric said.

Regardless, the buildings no longer are needed since the opening of Vernon Hills High and subsequent expansions at Libertyville High, she said.

Libertyville's parks and recreation department leased the classroom spaces for a few years starting in 2000. But the buildings were shuttered because of health and safety concerns, and they've stood essentially unused for more than a decade.

Village officials have leased the property from the school district since 2006, hoping the community-center plan would materialize. A community group subleased the building from the village.

Fundraising efforts never amounted to much, though, and this year's request via referendum to raise $11.5 million to renovate the classroom building was overwhelmingly panned by voters.

"At the end of the day, private fundraising did not provide sufficient funds to move the project forward, and in the absence of sufficient funds, Libertyville taxpayers were left to decide the issue," Lea said.

As part of the deal with District 128, the village now has two options: pay back rent of $404,000 or pay part of the demolition and asbestos abatement costs. Mayor Terry Weppler said no decision has been made as those costs are being finalized.

Village officials have until Sept. 1 to tell District 128 which option they prefer, Weppler said.

Regardless of the site's future uses, a small portion of the property will be set aside to memorialize the classroom building and gym, local landmarks that in 2008 were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Notable students have included actor Marlon Brando, professional baseball player Brett Butler and guitar legend Tom Morello.

Funding for redevelopment of the site will come from cash reserves, Lea said.

The looming specter of demolition also means the end of Brainerd Community Center Inc., the not-for-profit group that promoted the renovation project and the referendum. It's essentially disbanded after seven years.

Dissolution papers have been filed with the state and paperwork is being gathered for the Internal Revenue Service and Illinois attorney general's office.

"We have terminated our lease with the village (and) canceled our insurance on the building," said John Snow, the group's point man. "We're private citizens again."

The group spent about $20,000 on design and architectural fees, direct mailings and other expenses associated with the referendum push, Snow said. The campaign consumed most of the funds the organization had collected.

"We expect to have some money left over and will be distributing that to several of the performing arts entities in town," Snow said.

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