First, bushes tended for years were snatched out of the ground like a child plucking dandelions. Minutes later, the garages the bushes once decorated became a pile of rubble. And then the massive claw on the heavy machine turned its attention to the homes: one symbolized the dreams of a young family for one man, the other stood as a last stand against a taxing body that could not be overcome.
For Terry Bourbeau, the demolition of his old home was not a surprise. However, the fact that it even became his old home was not a change he planned on. Bourbeau said the Realtor who sold him his house never told him the St. Charles Public Library across the street was deep enough into an expansion plan that library officials knew they needed his land for a new parking lot. He didn't find that out until a library trustee showed up at his door one morning.
"When they first started this, they were not friendly," Bourbeau recalled. "The guy told me, 'Just so you know, we're going to get this house. We don't like to use eminent domain, but we are going to get this house.' I had to look up what eminent domain even was. I quickly learned they could pretty much just take my house."
So Bourbeau sold the home his son was born in, the first suburban dwelling he ever owned, and received what he described as a "good deal" from the library in payment. Bourbeau was able to stay in St. Charles, only a couple miles away, and keep his kids from changing schools. It wasn't a move that won him many friends in his old neighborhood.
"We were the first one out," Bourbeau said. "Everyone hated us for that. They thought we were traitors, but I had to think of my kids."
And yet, Bourbeau couldn't resist coming by to see his old home in its final moments Thursday.
"It was a good house," he said. "If my wife was here, she'd probably cry. This parking lot better be pretty nice."
Bryan Wood, the library's assistant director, took photos as Bourbeau's house crumbled to the ground after less than 20 minutes of work by the machine and its giant claw. For Wood and the other library employees who came out to watch. Thursday was about taking the next step toward a vision of a bigger and better library that will serve the needs of a larger population that the current building was meant to accommodate. The expansion, estimated to be in the neighborhood of about $35 million, will expand the library to 112,000 square feet. The site of Bourbeau's old home, and several other homes, will eventually become a parking lot with 280 spaces. But the library needs to ask voters for more money to make the actual expansion occur. When that request will come has yet to be decided. Whether or not voters will agree to fund the project is the last big question delaying the expansion.
"Yeah, we'll just have to see what they want," Wood said.
Watching her home get demolished it not what Kelley Meyer wanted. She initially fought the library's attempts to get her house. She didn't want to move.
"When I consulted an eminent domain lawyer he told me, 'You won't win. The Illinois Supreme Court favors parking lots. It's for the public good,' " Meyer said. "Still, we fought for five years."
On Thursday, it was clear Meyer lost that fight. The last gasp of her struggle was reduced to asking the demolition crew if she could salvage a few bricks from what was once her front porch. As she prepared to videotape her old home's last moments, the great irony running through her mind was that she was paying $33,000 to fund the demolition. It was a nuance the library put in the contract when they purchased her house that Meyer's lawyer didn't notice at first. By the time Meyer figured it out, she was under a tight deadline to close on the new property she bought to move to. Putting up a fight would've meant losing her new land and her deposit.
From the library's end, the $33,000 fee was a fair deal. It had paid Meyer more than any of the other homeowners, $400,000, because Meyer's initial plan was to literally move her old home to the new lot she bought. That proved to be too costly an endeavor, and the library put the $33,000 clause in the contract to make sure it didn't get stuck with the cost of tearing down a home they'd paid more to get rid of in the first place.
"It still felt like retribution from the library because we'd put up a longer fight than some people," Meyer said. "You can't fight the government."
And then the big claw took her home down to the ground to prove it.