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City of Galesburg to acquire Churchill Junior High; council at odds over community center concept

 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.
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 city of Galesburg will acquire the building at no cost.

Following a 4-3 city council vote Monday, the city of Galesburg will acquire the soon-to-be vacated Churchill Junior High building from Galesburg District 205 at no cost.

Council members Sarah Davis, Jaclyn Smith-Esters, Kevin Wallace, and Dwight White voted yes on an intergovernmental agreement to acquire the school.

Those council members are all serving their first terms.

They see an opportunity to transform the school building into a community center.

But more veteran council members Bradley Hix, Larry Cox, and Wayne Dennis voted no.

At issue is both the potential cost to bring it up to code and to renovate it – early estimates are up to $10 million -- and not yet having a defined idea or consensus of what all the facility would include.

Cox said the potential and proposed uses cover a wide spectrum, from daycare, a fitness center, and community classrooms to a permanent homeless shelter and office space for other organizations.

“This, in my opinion, is really not the government’s role to provide all these services. This sounds like a government takeover of many services that are now provided by either the private sector or other non-profit organizations,” he said.

The school district is closing Churchill at the end of this school year as part of its facilities plan.

Beginning next school year, the current Galesburg High School building will house all district students from seventh through 12th grades.

The council directed city administration in March to proceed with drafting the intergovernmental agreement with the same 4-3 vote.

In April, those opposed to the project proposed that council take the issue to voters with a non-binding referendum, but that was voted down 4-3.

Davis said the council doesn’t just represent voters -- it represents the entire community.

“The city of Galesburg has around 30,000 residents. And in the last consolidated election, there were 3,849 ballots cast. That is fewer than 13 percent of the residents,” she said.

Davis said she believes the residents with the most barriers to voting are the same residents that would most benefit from a community center.

After voting to acquire the property, the council tabled a vote on paying an engineering firm $20,000 for a preliminary study.

That will come up again at a future council meeting.

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 is TSPR's regional reporter.