New group in Libertyville to seek unbiased answers on Brainerd project

Posted9/12/2013 4:40 PM
  • Libertyville voters will be asked in March whether they want to raise property taxes to pay for the conversion of the vacant Brainerd building in Libertyville to a community center.

      Libertyville voters will be asked in March whether they want to raise property taxes to pay for the conversion of the vacant Brainerd building in Libertyville to a community center. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

The stage is set for what Libertyville officials say will be a thorough vetting of a plan to fund the conversion of an old school building to a community center using $8 million in taxpayer-approved money.

"Everyone will be fully informed on what's going on," Mayor Terry Weppler said. "We will have done everything we could to make sure we got the information out."

A six-member ad hoc panel suggested by Weppler and approved Tuesday by the village board soon will begin its work to gather information and answer all potential questions so taxpayers voting on the March 18 referendum will know exactly what the proposed tax increase would fund.

Weppler said he picked three committee members that he knows have questions about the project and asked the not-for-profit Brainerd Community Center Inc., group for three people.

"We have an even mix," he said.

The committee consists of: village Trustee Todd Gaines; Libertyville Township Supervisor Kathleen O'Connor; architect Kurt Hezner; Art Kopp, president of the Libertyville Civic Center Foundation and owner of an HVAC company; Scott Adams, a banker and member of the Brainerd executive committee; and, Doug Reed, a retired local businessman.

At issue is a long-sought desire by community supporters to convert the vacant, nearly century old former Libertyville Township High School, known as the Brainerd building, into a home for the performing arts.

After several years of trying, fundraising by the community group has fallen far short. Supporters and the village, which leases Brainerd and the adjoining Jackson Gym from Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128, agree its time to determine once and for all if a project will move forward or be dropped.

That will be determined by voters, who will be asked whether they would pay more in property taxes to allow the village -- through its bonding authority -- to borrow $8 million for the project and lease payments. The Jackson Gym initially will not be part of the plan.

Revised information shows a supporting vote would cost the owner of a home valued at $300,000 an extra $88 in property taxes every year for the 10-year life of the bond.

And with that kind of investment, Weppler said, voters need to know all the nuances.

"I want to make sure that any information that comes from the village is unbiased and accurate," he said. "The village's position is neutral."

Weppler said there are many questions to be answered, such as whether rentals from performing arts groups and other revenues would cover operating expenses once the renovation was complete.

"I need to see a business plan, an operational plan," he said.

He also had an issue with cost estimates distributed by the Brainerd group. Information on the group's website estimates the teardown at $1.3 million, with improvements such a new parking lot, bringing the cost to taxpayers to more than $3 million.

According to District 128, the estimated cost for demolition and asbestos containment and removal for both buildings is about $600,000.

School officials have taken a wait-and-see attitude regarding potential conversion of the building and have given supporters time to maneuver at no charge. The village subleases the buildings to the community group and the initial lease payment due to the district Dec. 1, 2014, is $250,000.

Weppler said three town hall informational meetings regarding the proposal will be held between January and March.

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