Week one of demolition at the old Simpson Electric property on Dundee Avenue in Elgin is wrapping up.
Crews will continue to pick away at the buildings for the rest of the summer. By September, the century-old structures will be reduced to a 7.5-acre lot of newly planted grass.
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Bill Conn is the CEO of Simpson Electric, a longtime panel meter and test instrumentation company, which is now owned by the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. The tribe bought the company in 1985 when part of the company already was running on its Wisconsin reservation. Conn said the tribe bought the business as an enterprise but shut down the Elgin location because only 28 employees remained in the large complex.
Plans for demolition have been in the works for about two years, Conn said, and the building has been empty since 2006.
"It didn't make sense to keep it anymore," Conn said. "It just wasn't feasible."
For a while the company spent $500,000 a year just to heat the vacant buildings.
In its heyday, the building complex housed more than 1,000 employees. The Illinois Watch Case Co., the American Gage and Machine Co. and Katy Industries are all past tenants. Simpson Electric has given local police and fire departments free rein to use the empty buildings for training, and the company recently donated various items to the Elgin Historical Society.
But today the buildings stand vandalized and falling apart -- an image even Conn said is an eyesore.
The Elgin planning department has been working with the company since December as it moved forward with plans for demolition. Marc Mylott, community development director for the city, said staff members had hoped the main building on Dundee Avenue could be spared but understood why demolition was the preference.
"It has certainly become a blighting influence on that neighborhood," Mylott said. "Given the economy we don't see anyone with the pockets to take on the rehabilitation of those buildings given everything that would have to go into them."
Conn said demolition will cost about $1 million. Rehab would have been significantly more.
Demolition preparation started a couple weeks ago as asbestos teams worked ahead. Now cranes are dismantling the buildings one by one, sorting bricks and metal into piles for disposal.
Bill Beaman is the project manager from American Demolition Corp., an Elgin-based company. He said the metal will be sold for scrap and many of the bricks will be crushed and used as back fill to go under the top soil.
There will be no explosions during the demolition process.
"No matter how you try to engineer it and no matter what precautions you take, it's an unpredictable entity," Beaman said.
For American Demolition, a job well done is one that no one in the neighborhood knew was happening.
But for Donald Deak, who has lived in Elgin all 77 years of his life, the process is a good show. He has been watching the work all week from across the street and won't be sad to see the buildings go.
The future of the space is still uncertain. Conn said Simpson Electric will hold onto the property through the bad real estate market and keep an eye out for promising opportunities or partnerships.