Ten years later, flood-prone former school site to be transferred to Gurnee Park District

The soccer fields at Viking Park West in Gurnee have been an amenity for players and visitors for awhile but it used to be better known for the school that at times was accessible only by boat.

Now, 10 years after it was acquired for flood control, Lake County is set to officially transfer three parcels where Gurnee Grade School once stood to the Gurnee Park District.

Situated north of Grand Avenue between Kilbourne Road and the Des Plaines River, the 1950s-era school, like many other structures, was located in a federally-designated floodway.

It became common practice with every anticipated flood for volunteers to mobilize and place sandbags around the school and elsewhere. Preparation and clean up after every event would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 2013, about 450 students were relocated and Lake County used $3.2 million in federal disaster funds distributed by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to buy and demolish the school and maintenance building on 5.76 acres.

An agreement between Lake County, the Gurnee Park District and Gurnee Elementary District 56 closed the book on the grade school. The park and school district contributed to the restoration of the site, completed in fall 2014.

Considered an extension of the 42-acre Viking Park across Kilbourne Road, Viking Park West includes a gazebo, two soccer/lacrosse fields, access to the Des Plaines River Trail and parking for the cricket pitch across the street.

A commemorative display featuring historical information about Gurnee Grade School and area flooding also was installed.

Pending expected approval Tuesday by the Lake County Board, the property at 900 Kilbourne Road will be transferred to the park district in perpetuity for "open space public use and purposes."

"This is the final step of conveying the property to the Gurnee Park District," said Sharon Osterby, water resources professional with the Lake County Stormwater Management Agency.

Gurnee has partnered in many buyouts programs in the area, mostly led by the stormwater agency, according to Austin Pollack, assistant to the village administrator.

Since 1987, 34 buildings have been acquired and removed from the flood plain, he said. Sixteen of those, mostly homes on Kilbourne Road and Emerald Avenue, have been razed since 2011 with three more scheduled for demolition in the next month.

The acquisitions are made with a combination of federal and state grants and village funds. The village usually does not pay more than 25% of the fair market value of a home and in some cases grants cover the entire cost of acquisition and demolition, Pollack added.

Home prices have ranged from $25,000 to $60,000 and commercial properties from $100,000 to $200,000, he said.

Visit the residents tab at for information on flooding in the village or a use a mapping tool to see at-risk areas in town.

  Information about the former Gurnee Grade School is commemorated at Viking Park West, north of Grand Avenue between Kilbourne Road and the Des Plaines River. Paul Valade/
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