Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 18, 2018

Libertyville council approves proposal to rehab former school

Plan would lease individual rooms to businesses
By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Feb 09, 2018
Source: IMAGE COURTESY OF EMMY PICARD Ben Picard and other developers submitted a proposal to the Libertyville City Council to lease space in the former elementary school to a variety of businesses. The council voted unanimously to support the proposal. The building would be renamed the “Libertyville Element Center,” the letters for which can be seen on the left side of this image on the north side of the building.

A developer has come forward with a plan to save the former Libertyville Elementary School building.

Ben Picard presented his idea of leasing rooms in the school to various businesses at the Libertyville City Council meeting Jan. 29.

The council liked the idea and voted unanimously to ask the Fairfield school district to transfer title to the city, which could then transfer it to Picard and the other leaders of the project. The other members of the leadership team are Ed Noyes, Bob Ferguson and Mark Hickenbottom.

The council will discuss the matter again at its meeting Tuesday. The school board could address it as early as its next meeting Feb. 19.

The Libertyville Building Committee, which has studied repurposing the building, created a request for proposal in December, hoping to attract developers looking to breathe new life into the former school. The deadline to submit proposals was Jan. 24.

Libertyville Mayor Rod Nelson said Picard was the only one to submit a proposal.

“Other people expressed an interest in the building, but didn’t make a formal proposal,” Nelson said. “The paperwork got to be a bit daunting for some folks. They needed to have a good business plan put together. I think Ben did an outstanding job putting together the pieces of the puzzle. I was very happy with what he brought forward.”


A school reimagined

Picard wants to turn the building into “southeast Iowa’s premier entrepreneurial center.” That means leasing the rooms to a variety of businesses, which will use them for:

• Commercial kitchen

• Child care co-op and playground

• Co-working space with shared business and conference area

• Community center in the gymnasium

• Workout equipment in the building’s loft with 24/7 access

• Four rooms on the west side converted into hotel suites, giving families temporary housing when relocating to Libertyville

• On north side, a “children’s table” fountain monument will provide a place for quiet reflection

That’s not all Picard envisions. After those businesses have moved in, he’d like to add a 1,500-square foot building on the southwest corner of the property, built to suit businesses in their scale-up phase; dedicate one-quarter acre in the northwest corner to test alternative crops; and building a tiny house development on 100 acres between Libertyville and Fairfield designed for young professionals.


The building would be known as the “Libertyville Element Center.” The name has a couple of meanings. First, it is an homage to the former elementary school. Second, ancient Greeks believed the universe consisted of four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. Those four elements would be a theme in this remodeled building.



Picard said he has already secured $150,000 in funding from local businesses, and is hoping to raise another $50,000 to renovate the building. The project is a finalist in a competition to receive $100,000 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

IEDA requires a one-to-one match from the developer, and Picard hopes IEDA will pick his project if he can match its grant two-to-one. Anna Bruen of Pathfinders Resource Conservation & Development, and Joshua Laraby of Fairfield Economic Development Association helped Picard apply for the grant. IEDA will award the grant March 1.

“With or without the grant, we’re going through with it,” Picard said. “I’m feeling supremely confident that we’re going to make this work no matter what.”

Picard foresees an operating cost of $2,500 per month, which includes $1,275 for utilities, maintenance and insurance. Sixty percent of the rentable space has been spoken for, equating to $2,000 in monthly income. Picard said the center is poised to be “cash flow positive at launch.”

“I actually feel like we’re pretty much there,” he said. “I need a couple more renters to make it happen. Given that we don’t have control of the building yet, that’s pretty good.”


Child care

Picard said lack of day care options has kept families from moving to Jefferson County. He said this creates a domino effect leading to declining school enrollment and fewer young people to participate in the labor force.

The child care facility in the former school would be called Libertyville NEXT, and would start with before- and after-school programs.

The programs would impart basic education and provide a safe environment for parents to take their children. Picard said that, if the interest is high, the day care could be expanded to a full day.

The organizers have already crafted of a series of summer camps for the center.

Picard said he will lobby the school district to put a bus stop at the Libertyville Element Center.


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