Demolition plan for flood-prone Gurnee Grade School gets a financial boost
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In any other year, Gurnee Grade School would have been closed and the students disrupted for weeks after the basement filled with three feet of water during last month's Des Plaines River flooding.
But that was not a concern this spring. About 450 students in January were relocated from the 1950s-era school on Kilbourne Road near old Grand Avenue to the new Prairie Trail School in Wadsworth.
That was made possible because voters in Gurnee Elementary District 56 in November 2010 approved spending for the new building and other projects. Ever since, local officials have made efforts to acquire and demolish the flood-prone old school.
On Tuesday, the Lake County Board will consider appropriating a $750,000 grant from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to be used for the demolition, site restoration and project management for the Gurnee Grade School. The grant is $310,000 more than originally awarded for the work by a different state agency.
"It's a swapping of funding sources for the same project," said Mike Warner, executive director of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission, the agency managing the demolition and site restoration.
Lake County received $3.2 million in federal disaster funds distributed by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to buy and demolish the school, which includes three land parcels and a maintenance building on about six acres.
In February, the county board agreed to spend $2.76 million from its stormwater management commission's budget for the purchase, which would then be reimbursed by the grant. The closing was March 15.
The purchase left a balance of $440,000 from the grant, but since then, it was determined that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency should take the lead on the demolition and site work, Warner said.
"It made better sense to match the (Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) funds with another project and for us to use the IEMA money. It's a smart financial decision," Warner said. As it technically amounts to new money, county board action is needed to set up a specific account, he added.
Warner said that since the county owns the building it was able to shut off power and other utilities during the April flooding. That spared the effort of having to protect the structure and "saved the village about 50,000 sand bags," he said.
The property is being leased for school bus parking until June 3. A contract for the demolition is expected to be awarded July 11.
After the site is graded and restored it will be conveyed to the Gurnee Park District. Tentative plans are for a pavilion, restroom facilities and some sort of historical acknowledgment of Gurnee Grade School.
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