City acquires Churchill building, stalls on proceeding with master plan

Samuel Lisec
Galesburg Register-Mail

GALESBURG — Galesburg will acquire the Churchill Junior High School building from Galesburg School District 205, city council members decided in a 4-3 vote Monday, May 2.

Council members Kevin Wallace, Dwight White, Jaclyn Smith-Esters and Sarah Davis voted in favor of acquiring the property. Council members Bradley Hix, Wayne Dennis and Larry Cox voted against it.  

The decision came after almost an hour-long discussion between the city council members, input from 15 different members of the public and a failed vote to table the final reading of the matter for another session.

City Manager Todd Thompson recommended that the council vote to acquire the building, but noted “there still needs to be additional work done” and that “one of the things we don't have is really good information” when it comes to the council’s future decision on whether to invest millions of dollars to turn the building into a community center.

Community Center:Open house prompts public opinions on city options with Churchill as community center

Of the various arguments, First Ward city council member Bradley Hix reiterated that he is not against the idea of providing Galesburg a community center, but questioned the operational costs, the interest the city would acquire in taking out bonds to pay for the project and said he doesn’t believe the location is the best use of funds. 

Seventh Ward City Council Member Larry Cox argued that it is not the government’s role to provide the myriad of potential services that have been proposed to be provided in the community center such as 24/7 daycare or transitional housing. 

Fifth Ward city council member Sarah Davis said the city government is not a business and therefore is not here to make a profit, but to serve its people. Third ward city council member Kevin Wallace described the discussion over whether the project could cost $5-10 million as a “scare tactic.”

Fourth Ward city council member Dwight White said it doesn’t cost the city anything to acquire Churchill at this moment and the city can sell it back to District 205 or another entity if they decide not to use it. 

After the council voted to acquire Churchill, the council voted to table an agreement that would have hired the Farnsworth Group to create a "master plan for a future Community Recreation Center.” 

Community Center:City council rejects public referendum on acquiring Churchill

Council members Hix, Dennis, Wallace, White and Davis voted in favor of tabling the agreement. Council member Smith-Esters voted against and Cox abstained.

If the agreement is approved, the Farnsworth Group would meet with the mayor, council and city staff to review priorities and needs, tours of two nearby community centers, as well as an evaluation and the estimated cost of using the existing Churchill building or constructing a new building for a community center.

“So let me get this straight, so this (ordinance) 22-40-49 is the horse getting in front of the cart that we've already got, only control of this building with no plan and no programming?” Hix said.

White proposed the motion to table the measure, indicating he would like the city to gather together information on what they would like to see in the building before meeting with the Farnsworth Group.

"We need to decide on exactly what we're going to do with the building,” White said.