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Article updated: 9/27/2013 2:16 PM

Demolition of flood-prone Gurnee Grade School begins Monday

The former Gurnee Grade School near the Des Plaines River in Gurnee flooded many times since it was built in the 1950s.

The former Gurnee Grade School near the Des Plaines River in Gurnee flooded many times since it was built in the 1950s.

 

Courtesy of Stormwater Management Commission

Demolition of the old Gurnee Grade School will begin Monday, Sept. 30.

Demolition of the old Gurnee Grade School will begin Monday, Sept. 30.

 

PAUL VALADE | Staff Photographer, 2010

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There will be some sentimental goodbyes, but for the most part, razing the Gurnee Grade School will be celebrated as a solution to a decades-old problem.

"Quite honestly, it's been a pain," said John Hutton, superintendent of Gurnee Elementary District 56, which owned the building and property on Kilbourne Road near Old Grand Avenue in Gurnee for more than half a century.

On Monday at 10 a.m., Hutton and officials from a variety of agencies will gather for the beginning of the heavy duty portion of the demolition of the oft-flooded school, about 600 feet from the Des Plaines River. Bricks will be available for those who are interested.

"A lot of people who graduated from the building have fond memories. They'd just like to have a brick," Hutton said. "I'm expecting a good crowd."

The school housed generations of students since it opened in 1954. But it was built in a floodway and has flooded consistently over the years, at times forcing students to other facilities. Locating a school in that spot would not be allowed today.

"No way," said Mike Warner, executive director of the Lake County Stormwater Management Agency. The agency owns the property and school, which closed this past January. "Flood risk is now a nationally recognized issue. Regulations would not allow a building like that to be built."

Students were situated in the new Prairie Trail School in Wadsworth.

Warner said the cost of responding to each flood, include sandbagging, relocating students and cleaning up, was $300,000.

"It's a big public benefit. Our motto has been, `Turning the site from a community liability to a community asset,'" he said.

The agency for years has been working with local, state and federal officials to acquire the nearly 6-acre property and demolish the school. Since 1998, it is the largest of more than 200 properties it has acquired for flood control through its voluntary buyout program.

For this project, the agency received a $3.2 million state grant as part of the 2008 Hurricane Ike recovery funds and $750,000 from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency for demolition and site restoration.

District 56 and the Gurnee Park District each will contribute $75,000 toward site preparation and $200,000 for improvements to include two soccer fields, paths to connect to the district's adjacent Viking Park, a shelter, picnic areas, rain gardens, parking, and a pavilion at which history of the school will be displayed.

"It's a great community project," said Susie Kuruvilla, executive director of the park district. The new park should be ready for public use by the summer or fall of 2014, she added.

Crews during the past week or so have been tearing up pavement and dismantling the interior. All concrete will be crushed and reused as the base for trails and other structures, Warner said.

What becomes of the bricks that are not given away is to be determined.

The cornerstone will be presented to Hutton during the event Monday. That will be incorporated in some fashion in the pavilion at the new park, he said.

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