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Newer Galesburg city council members support Churchill project

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Jane Carlson
/
Tri States Public Radio
Churchill Junior High will be vacated at the end of this school year as part of Galesburg District 205's facilities plan. The school board has approved transferring the property to the city of Galesburg at no cost, but city council members are split on how to proceed.

Potential uses for the school building as a city-owned community center include kitchen rental, art and music classes, indoor walking and recreation, outdoor recreation, youth and senior citizen activities, and community events.

The Galesburg city council remains split on whether renovating the soon-to-be-vacated Churchill Junior High into a community center is a good idea.

But those who favor the project are in the majority.

Churchill will close at the end of this school year as part of Galesburg District 205’s facilities plan.

The school board has approved transferring the property to the city at no cost.

Potential uses for the Churchill property as a city-owned community center include kitchen rental, art and music classes, indoor walking and recreation, outdoor recreation, youth and senior citizen activities, and community events.

But getting the building up to code and renovating it is expected to cost up to $10 million.

For those opposed, that seems too big an investment.

“I’m not against the youth center. I think we need to spend our money wisely. And there are other options than just Churchill,” said Ward 1 council member Bradley Hix.

Hix, along with Ward 2’s Wayne Dennis and Ward 7’s Larry Cox, proposed a non-binding referendum be added to the November ballot to seek public input on whether to proceed.

That proposal was voted down 4-3 at Monday’s city council meeting, with Ward 5’s Jaclyn Smith-Esters calling it “unusual.”

“To me, when we put things on a ballot, we really narrow who our audience is. And when I say that, I look at who is going out to vote,” Smith-Esters said.

But Hix said he’s heard from a number of constituents that want to be able to voice their opinions.

Hix also noted that two council members who favor the project were appointed to the council, not elected.

That includes Smith-Esters, who was appointed to serve the remainder of Schwartzman’s term in Ward 5 after he was elected mayor last year, and Kevin Wallace, who was appointed to Ward 3 after Lindsey Hillery resigned.

The two other council members who support the project, Sarah Davis and Dwight White, were elected to serve their first terms in Wards 6 and 4, respectively, last year.

White called the referendum proposal a “hit and run.”

“We have the votes, I do believe, for Churchill. And this is an attempt, in my opinion, to stop that,” White said.

The city council will vote at its May 2 meeting whether to accept the property from the school district.

City manager Todd Thompson said the administration will recommend accepting it, following direction from a council majority for the city to pursue it.

But he said that’s not necessarily a recommendation to move forward with renovating the property at this point, because more research needs to be done.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.