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Complex decision for Dixon schools

Though ‘price is good,’ site still not sure thing

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – Supporters of a sports and activities complex for local schools talk about putting the facility at The Meadows, a park district-owned property.

But no decision has been made.

Years ago, the state Department of Natural Resources deeded The Meadows to the Dixon Park District, with the requirement that the district use the property for recreation and conservation, officials say.

The park district is interested in leasing to the Dixon school district land at The Meadows, which is 567 acres off Washington Avenue in northeast Dixon.

But officials need to get the state’s approval to use the land for educational purposes. Discussions with the state are continuing.

“The DNR’s duty is to make sure that open space remains open space,” schools Superintendent Michael Juenger said. “The thought of putting schools there may be considered restricting open space.”

The Meadows’ big advantage?

“The price is good,” Juenger said.

The park district is expected to lease the land to the schools for a nominal fee of, say, $1 a year, he said.

Still, Juenger said, the schools have no guarantee the land can be used for that purpose. So the district is looking at other sites.

He and other officials haven’t publicly identified those places. Doing so, they fear, could cause the asking prices to go up.

On Nov. 6, Lee County voters will decide on a sales tax increase of 1 percentage point, which would add a dime to almost every $10 purchase. Lee County’s school districts would divide the tax revenue based on their enrollments.

In August, the Dixon school board adopted a nonbinding resolution stating that the revenue would go toward the complex.

“It’s really important to say that no decision has been made on the site,” Juenger said. “We don’t know if the funding source will be there.”

Long term, the district envisions putting all of its schools on one campus. The Meadows may be the place for that, Juenger said, but that could be 50 years down the road.

School officials say the district needs more indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, which is the reason for a complex. But some people, including school board member Woody Lennox, say a complex would veer from the district’s main goal – education.

Others are concerned that The Meadows is too close to the state prison.

“I certainly don’t want to call that a non-issue,” Juenger said. “It’s something to think about.”

But he said he knows of no problems with prison breaks.

Another issue is road access to The Meadows.

Juenger acknowledged that’s an issue, saying the district will examine infrastructure costs if it gets clearance from the Department of Natural Resources.

Supporters of the complex hope to get the city’s help with infrastructure.

“That’s a discussion that needs to be had,” the superintendent said.

Mayor Jim Burke, a supporter of the complex, said the city must get a formal request before it considers helping.

He said the complex would bring many visitors to town, which would help the local economy. Now, many people go to the Sterling Park District’s Westwood complex for indoor athletic events.

The mayor said he has been impressed with events already being held at volunteer-created athletic fields at The Meadows.

“I was asked to do a coin toss there,” he said. “There were a couple of thousand people out there all day long.”

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