The former Hubble Middle School, along with its storied past in Wheaton, is surrendering this week to the wrecking ball.
Demolition crews are tearing down the western portion of the building in preparation for the 2013 opening of a Mariano's Fresh Market grocery store at the highly visible property on Roosevelt and Naperville roads.
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Even as portions of the structure are coming down, Wheaton officials are remembering the building's history. It opened in the mid-1920s as Wheaton Community High School and its notable alumni include comedian John Belushi and Watergate journalist Bob Woodward.
"Those are important memories to the community, but I think it's also important for the community to look forward to the highest and best use for that property," Mayor Michael Gresk said.
Officials view the Hubble property as a key piece as they identify the borders of downtown in a strategic plan developed by Design Workshop, Inc., a Denver-based consulting firm the city council hired in April.
"I think it will develop into a gateway, something that we can be proud of that will define the entrance to the downtown," Gresk said.
The opening of Mariano's also means the first large grocery store in the downtown area since the Jewel-Osco on Willow Avenue closed in February 2008. Gresk calls that closing a blow for downtown.
Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 announced last summer the roughly $5 million sale of the former Hubble property to Chicago-based Bradford Equities, LLC.
The long-awaited sale came after both a sealed auction and a live auction produced no bids for the property.
School board President Rosemary Swanson said the development of the site fulfills a district goal to add the property to the tax rolls.
"That site and that building has served our district well for many decades now, so it's very exciting and gratifying to see it being put to a new purpose," Swanson said.
The district is working to obtain some of the bricks from the demolition and to sell them, spokeswoman Erica Loiacono said. Each brick is expected to include a commemorative plaque. Anyone interested may call (630) 682-2469.
Meanwhile, the park district will preserve three gymnasiums at the property as part of a $3.25 million deal with Bradford. Donated open land that lies in a flood plain also will be used for recreational purposes.
The park district board of commissioners earlier this month approved a $2.2 million contract with Palatine-based Bergen Construction to renovate a portion of the site. The project will make an almost 50,000-square-foot section of the former school that contains the gymnasiums a stand-alone building and upgrade lighting and plumbing. The board also agreed to pay Bergen a $30,000 bonus if the company substantially completes the work by Jan. 1.
Park officials have been collaborating with Bradford for more than a year on the property that generates roughly 100,000 indoor and outdoor user hours per year.
To prepare for Mariano's, construction crews first removed asbestos from the older, western portion of the building and will do so again in the newer segment. Demolition is expected to take at least two months, said Bill Shank, vice president of construction and design at Bradford Real Estate.
The grocery store is expected to bring 425 employees to Wheaton and open in October 2013, Shank said.
To accommodate traffic, Bradford will provide a continuous right turn lane along Roosevelt Road, said Paul Redman, the city's director of engineering. The lane will extend from Naperville Road to Main Street.
Despite the memories of the old Hubble, Gresk applauded its future commercial use.
"It's going to serve a much greater purpose for the community immediately and also in the future as a commercial site," he said.