By SAMANTHA PIDDE
The West Carroll School Board Wednesday, Jan. 19, unanimously approved a resolution to sell 1.5 acres of land north of the middle school for $10 to the City of Mount Carroll for the construction site of the multi-million dollar William J. Davis Community Center.
Following the death of Davis of Mount Carroll on April 26, 1967, his will established a trust with several organizations as beneficiaries. The trust instructed that three of his relatives — first cousins Clarence Davis, Herbert Davis and Helen Grace Davis Marth — received annual payments while designated beneficiaries would not receive funds until all three cousins had died. The last of these three individuals, Herbert Davis, died in September 2019 at the age of 98.
Since then, the City of Mount Carroll has been working to plan the building of a community center in Davis’ name, according to the direction of the trust. Originally willed 50 percent of the trust, the city received slightly more due to a settlement with the Shimer College portion, entitling Mount Carroll to around $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, the city council approved a location north of the West Carroll Middle School as the project’s site location.
During the Jan. 19 meeting, school board member Greg Stott voiced numerous questions and concerns regarding the project, as well as the intergovernmental agreement approved last March between West Carroll and Mount Carroll before Savanna residents Stott, Juliene McCormick and Renee Pritchard were elected to the board.
Stott asked why the agreement had a clause allowing the city to “drop out” but not the district. Mount Carroll Mayor Carl Bates said the agreement was written this way because the city has been evaluating several possible locations for the community center. During much of the discussion, Stott continued to push for the board to delay a vote on the matter until February, saying he wanted more information.
“I think some more things need to be figured out before we say yes,” said Stott. “I want more details or I’m going to vote no.”
Bates said he felt Stott was stalling in an effort to push the matter until the March 9 deadline, when the one-year intergovernmental agreement expired. Stott denied this, saying he did not feel like he could make a decision that night. He said he had not seen any information on exactly what the city planned for the property, to which Bates told Stott he should read the local newspapers, which have been extensively covering the project.
“We’re not talking about the building, this is simply the land,” Supt. Julie Katzenberger said. “This isn’t something out of the ordinary. The district has a past practice of selling real property to the cities.”
Katzenberger reminded board members of the similar deals West Carroll has made with nearby communities. On Sept. 21, 2007, WC sold the Savanna Park District the pool for $10. Katzenberger said West Carroll did a similar agreement at the same $10 amount on Nov. 7, 2012, for the Village of Thomson to take ownership of the ball diamonds.
“This would be no different,” Katzenberger said regarding the land for the Davis Community Center.
Katzenberger said the 1.5 acres is not really that much out of 50 acres and Mayor Bates also pointed out the property in question is not usable to the district without the improvements planned by the city.
“Have you looked at the property, it’s currently a ditch,” Bates said.
Board President Fred Tipton addressed Stott’s questions, saying, “I sort of, kind of understand your concerns, but we’ve done this for every other community in our district.”
Board members Tipton and Jeff Woodside said they did not understand what questions Stott had concerning the project, with Woodside adding the district should be grateful to be a part of the Davis Community Center project.
“This is a gift, this is an amazing gift,” Bates said about the Davis Trust money. “It’s about the community. It’s about the future.”
Woodside asked Bates to confirm the city would have the funds to manage and operate the center. The mayor said the city is receiving approximately $13.5 million from the trust and plans to spend about $7.5 million on construction of the facility.
Board member Pritchard asked about the planned parking and driveway for the community center, worried it could cause a bottleneck issue for the school. Displaying a map of the property, Katzenberger assured board members that the city’s building would have a separate driveway and lot.
Pritchard also asked what would happen if problems arise or city management changes. Katzenberger said the deal 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 taking the property back. However, she said she trusts the Mount Carroll City Council to move forward on the project and make good choices.
“There has to be a sense of trust with a community,” Supt. Katzenberger said.
Pritchard, Stott and McCormick questioned 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 expired in March.
“We want to be clear, we want to be upfront,” said Tipton, adding he saw no reason to delay the vote.
Bates, Katzenberger and Tipton emphasized the property would be owned by the city and would be the city’s responsibility. These statements were made in response to McCormick asking what would happen if the property flooded and Stott’s inquiries on the partnership between the two groups on the project.
Bates assured the board that once “we own the property, it’s ours.”
“This is a Mount Carroll-based gift that they are willing to share with us,” said Tipton. “But it’s still going to be their baby.”
Stott also voiced concerns on what effect the sale of the land and the construction of the center would have on West Carroll school buildings, specifically WCMS and WCHS.
Tipton said the sale would not have any effect on the buildings, to which Stott asked, “Is that a guarantee?”
Tipton said no classes would be held in the community center and everyday operations and busing would not change.
“That was my main concern,” Stott said.
Tipton said the gym space in the proposed community center could be used by West Carroll athletic programs that do not have adequate practice space. McCormick said this could detract from having athletic events in West Carroll buildings, but Mayor Bates explained the community center will not feature the large, event-style gymnasium the board was thinking about.
“It will not be a 500-seat gymnasium,” Bates said, explaining that for cost purposes, the city is going with a standard-sized gymnasium, hoping to provide an adequate recreation space for the community.
“We are not building a gymnasium for the school,” Bates said.
Following the lengthy discussion, the board unanimously approved the sale of the property to the city.
Bates thanked the board for its “candid conversation,” adding, “It’s healthy and helpful.”
In a related matter, Bates spoke earlier in the meeting regarding West Carroll’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) application to the city for a proposed project to resurface and expand the existing track at the WCMS. Supt. Katzenberger previously had said the district was looking into this project at the WCMS instead of the WCHS because the high school track is not within Savanna’s TIF district.
Mount Carroll Mayor Bates said the city has decided to deny the TIF request. Instead, he said that after speaking to the council and the three Davis Trust trustees, the city would like to pledge $534,000 from the Davis Trust money for the project. The school district would not be expected to repay this money.
Bates said an outdoor and indoor track was the number one thing residents wanted when a community survey for the Davis project was conducted.
“We’re excited to partner and keep this going,” Bates said.