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No timeline for disputed Prophetstown community center

Project in works, parks official says

PROPHETSTOWN – Three years ago, the Prophetstown Park District quietly bought a property where it could build a community center.

The plan was to start construction in 2013 and finish it in a year, but ground has yet to be broken.

“We don’t have a set timeline,” said Karyn Sommers-Buck, the district’s director, who started a year ago.

In the spring of 2011, the park board voted 4-1 to buy the old Jailhouse restaurant and bar for $110,000. It later demolished the structure so that it could build the center, which would be near the park district’s recreation center.

Officials said Prophetstown needed a community center for banquets, weddings and other social events. But some residents accused the board of buying the property without letting the public know beforehand.

The board said people could have found out if they had attended the board’s meetings.

Opponents of the purchase, however, said no one from the public attended meetings at the time, so the purchase happened without public feedback. At one point, the opponents launched an effort to disband the park district and transfer it to the school district.

Sommers-Buck said most people supported the building purchase, with only a handful opposed.

This year, she said, money will become available for the community center once the district pays off a loan.

“We won’t have to raise taxes,” she said.

In 2011, park district officials suggested the new building might cost $250,000.

“Since I’ve been here, they haven’t thrown out any numbers on the building,” Sommers-Buck said. “We have had some discussion, but we have not made any final decisions.”

Resident Linda Copeland said she had attended nearly all of the park board’s meetings for more than 2 years, after the purchase of the Jailhouse property. She said she rarely hears about plans for the community center.

“It’s mentioned casually,” she said. “There hasn’t been an in-depth discussion.”

She has long been a critic of the decision to buy the property.

“They were in such a rush to buy the building,” Copeland said, adding that she wondered why the district wasn’t doing anything now that it had the property.

The lack of publicity about the purchase, she said, was odd.

“It’s like having a baby and not putting in a birth announcement in the paper,” Copeland said. “They should have been excited about it, but nothing was in the local paper.”

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