By SAMANTHA PIDDE
The West Carroll School Board on Wednesday Jan. 19 unanimously approved a resolution to sell 1.5 acres of land north of the college for $10 to the City of Mount Carroll for the William Community Center construction site. J. Davis of several million dollars. .
Following the death of Davis of Mount Carroll on April 26, 1967, his will established a trust with several organizations as beneficiaries. The trust ordered three of its relatives – first cousins Clarence Davis, Herbert Davis and Helen Grace Davis Marth – to receive annual payments while named beneficiaries would not receive funds until the three cousins would not have died. The last of these three individuals, Herbert Davis, died in September 2019 at the age of 98.
Since then, the town of Mount Carroll has been working to plan the construction of a community center in Davis’s name, according to trust management. The city originally received 50% of the trust, with some more due to a settlement with the Shimer College party, entitling Mount Carroll to approximately $13 million.
After conducting surveys and contracting a feasibility study, the city heard a report from Russell Construction and Streamline Architects in August on several building designs and site locations. In late September 2021, City Council approved a location north of West Carroll Middle School as the location of the project site.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, School Board member Greg Stott voiced many questions and concerns about the project, as well as the intergovernmental agreement approved last March between West Carroll and Mount Carroll before residents of Savanna Stott, Juliene McCormick and Renee Pritchard are elected to Council.
Stott questioned why the agreement included a clause allowing the city to “give up” but not the district. Mount Carroll Mayor Carl Bates said the deal was written that way because the city had evaluated several possible locations for the community center. During much of the discussion, Stott continued to press for the board to delay a vote on the matter until February, saying he wanted more information.
“I think there are other things that need to be worked out before we say yes,” Stott said. “I want more details or I’m going to vote no.”
Bates said he believed Stott was stalling in an effort to push the case back until the March 9 deadline, when the year-long intergovernmental agreement expired. Stott denied this, saying he didn’t feel able to make a decision that night. He said he hadn’t seen any information on exactly what the city was planning for the property, to which Bates told Stott he should read local newspapers, which covered the project extensively.
“We’re not talking about the building, it’s just about the land,” the superintendent said. says Julie Katzenberger. “It’s not something out of the ordinary. The district has a history of selling real estate to cities.”
Katzenberger reminded board members of similar agreements West Carroll has made with neighboring communities. On September 21, 2007, WC sold the pool to the Savanna Park District for $10. Katzenberger said West Carroll made a similar deal for the same $10 on Nov. 7, 2012, for the Village of Thomson to take possession of the ball fields.
“It wouldn’t be any different,” Katzenberger said of the Davis Community Center field.
Katzenberger said the 1.5 acres wasn’t really a lot on 50 acres and Mayor Bates also pointed out that the property in question was not usable for the district without the city’s planned improvements.
“Have you looked at the property, it’s currently a ditch,” Bates said.
Council Chairman Fred Tipton responded to Stott’s questions, saying, “I kind of understand your concerns, but we’ve done this for all the other communities in our district.”
Board members Tipton and Jeff Woodside said they didn’t understand Stott’s questions about the project, with Woodside adding that the district should be grateful to be part of the Davis Community Center project.
“It’s a gift, it’s an amazing gift,” Bates said of the Davis Trust money. “It’s about the community. It’s about the future.”
Woodside asked Bates to confirm that the city would have the funds to manage and operate the center. The mayor said the city is receiving about $13.5 million from the trust and plans to spend about $7.5 million building the facility.
Pritchard, a board member, asked about the planned parking lot and driveway for the community center, fearing it could cause a bottleneck problem for the school. Posting a map of the property, Katzenberger assured council members that the town building would have a separate driveway and lot.
Pritchard also asked what would happen if problems arose or the management of the city changed. Katzenberger said the agreement includes a clause that if the city does not begin building the center within three years of the sale, the district would have the option of repossessing the property. However, she said she trusted Mount Carroll City Council to move forward on the project and make the right choices.
“There has to be a sense of trust with a community,” the superintendent said. said Katzenberger.
Pritchard, Stott and McCormick wondered why the board had to make a decision on the sale that night. Katzenberger said that due to the nature of the sale, the discussion had to be held in open session, reiterating the intergovernmental agreement that expired in March.
“We want to be clear, we want to be upfront,” Tipton said, adding that he saw no reason to delay the vote.
Bates, Katzenberger and Tipton emphasized that the property would be owned by the city and would be the responsibility of the city. These statements were made in response to McCormick asking what would happen if the property was flooded and Stott’s inquiries about the partnership between the two groups on the project.
Bates assured the council that once “we own the property, it belongs to us”.
“It’s a Mount Carroll-based gift that they’re willing to share with us,” Tipton said. “But it will always be their baby.”
Stott also expressed concerns about the effect the sale of the land and construction of the center would have on West Carroll’s school buildings, particularly WCMS and WCHS.
Tipton said the sale would have no effect on the buildings, to which Stott asked, “Is that a guarantee?”
Tipton said no classes would be held at the community center and daily operations and buses would not change.
“That was my main concern,” Stott said.
Tipton said gym space in the proposed community center could be used by West Carroll athletic programs that lack adequate workout space. McCormick said it could hurt holding sporting events in the West Carroll buildings, but Mayor Bates explained the community center won’t feature the large, event-style gymnasium the board had in mind.
“It’s not going to be a 500-seat gymnasium,” Bates said, explaining that for cost reasons, the city is opting for a standard-size gymnasium, hoping to provide adequate recreational space for the community.
“We’re not building a school gymnasium,” Bates said.
After lengthy discussions, the council unanimously approved the sale of the property to the city.
Bates thanked the board for their “frank conversation”, adding, “It’s wholesome and helpful.”
In a related matter, Bates spoke earlier in the meeting about West Carroll’s tax increment financing (TIF) application to the city for a proposed project to resurface and expand the existing track at WCMS. Supt. Katzenberger previously said the district was considering this project at WCMS instead of WCHS because the high school track is not in the Savanna TIF district.
Mount Carroll Mayor Bates said the city decided to deny TIF’s request. Instead, he said that after talking to council and the three Davis Trust trustees, the city would like to pledge $534,000 of Davis Trust money for the project. You wouldn’t expect the school district to refund that money.
Bates said an outdoor and indoor track was the first thing residents wanted when a community survey for Project Davis was conducted.
“We are thrilled to partner up and continue,” Bates said.