Gurnee primed to restart sidetracked war memorial effort
Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik says the village is ready to embark on a plan that'll result in construction of a public memorial to troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan — an idea mired in controversy since 2009.
Heroes of Freedom Memorial Park would rise on a 1-acre site on Old Grand Avenue, where Gurnee's police headquarters once stood. It would be a joint development and maintenance venture with village government, the Gurnee Park District and Warren Township.
Gurnee village board members are to meet at 7:30 p.m. today to consider approving their end of a three-way agreement for the proposal. The session will be at village hall, 325 N. O'Plaine Road.
Kovarik said the plan is to immediately start improving the property by having Warren Township plant flower beds on the land, which will be maintained by park district employees. She said the village would improve a parking lot and sidewalk, while the park district continues handling grass mowing and weeding.
Although she's not yet certain about what shape the memorial to the Afghanistan and Iraq soldiers would take, Kovarik said the goal is to debut it in conjunction with the Gurnee Days festival weekend in August 2013. The village likely would be responsible for the memorial construction.
"When I set my mind to something, I move fast," she said.
Kovarik said a planning committee would be formed with representatives from the village, township and park district.
Originally, village Trustee Kirk Morris was pursuing construction of the memorial for the same publicly owned Grand Avenue property. He did so through his Pfc. Geoffrey Morris Foundation, named for his son who died in Iraq while fighting for the Marines in 2004.
Controversy erupted in October 2009, when Morris and Kovarik began publicly feuding. Kovarik contended the foundation accomplished little in the five years it was unofficially in charge and no longer should lead the project.
Morris went on to file a lawsuit against Gurnee and Kovarik over his foundation's removal. The suit was dismissed by a Lake County judge, but an appellate court decision last year sent the case back for a jury trial, now set to begin July 16.
Morris said he was unaware of the latest proposal. He questioned why public resources would be used for the effort when his foundation was raising private cash for the work.
"I don't know what's motivating it," Morris said. "I really don't."
Morris' lawsuit no longer will center on the claim his private foundation had the right to develop the village-owned property for the memorial. Instead, the foundation is seeking reimbursement for improvements it made on the Old Grand Avenue site.
His attorney, Robert O'Donnell, has said the main issue in the lawsuit will be whether the village received "unjust enrichment" from work performed for the foundation. The suit contends time, labor, materials and services provided to the site totaled at least $200,000.
Under Morris' plan, money was being raised through the foundation to pay an estimated $200,000 for life-size bronze statues depicting his son, Warren Township resident Sean Maher and Libertyville's Wesley Wells. All three servicemen died in battle in 2004 or 2005.
Nine flags representing every military branch and lights were the most visible work done on the memorial from March 2005 until the dispute arose in 2009. Gov. Pat Quinn, when he was lieutenant governor, and military officials were among those who attended a dedication ceremony in April 2005.
All of the flags have since been removed from the poles.
Morris, who was not a trustee when the village decided in 2005 to build a memorial, later assumed fundraising responsibility. He said he had intended to build the memorial on property he owned until village officials approached him about placing it on the former police station property.
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