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Demolition of old Gurnee Grade School begins

John Huttsuperintendent Gurnee Grade School District 56 raising cornerstone above his head. | Submitted photo

John Hutton, superintendent of Gurnee Grade School District 56, raising the cornerstone above his head. | Submitted photo

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Updated: November 2, 2013 6:11AM

Bittersweet is how many people described their feelings at the ceremonial demolition of the old Gurnee Grade School that began Monday.

And all agreed it was time to move on as the land is going to once again hold floodwaters as a park with two soccer fields built by the Gurnee Park District at the 940 Kilbourne Road address.

“I think it’s bittersweet, but they need to take it down,” said Sarah Lingle, 33, of Gurnee, who was there with her daughter, Katie Blank, 15, who attended the last class that had gone through kindergarten through 8th grade at the school.

“It’s sad,” said Katie, “I’ve been in every classroom, but not the office (she laughs because that’s where kids who got into trouble went). I can still remember every single teacher,” she said.

“We had three generations go through Gurnee Grade School,” said Lingle, “My mother (Dara Lingle) also went there,” she said. “We have so many memories,” she continued, and now those memories will be reignited every time they see the brick they got from the school Monday morning, Sept. 30.

John Hutton, superintendent of Gurnee Grade School District 56, was handed the building’s cornerstone with the date it was built, 1954. When he first arrived as superintendent in 2007, he had no idea eight weeks into his new job he would join the sandbagging brigade at the school in a baptism by sand, so to speak, and he was impressed with how the community turned out. “I don’t think this can be replicated in a lot of other communities,” he said, clearly impressed with the operations in August of that year. “OK, we’re back to it,” he said as another cart of sandbags arrived to build a four-foot wall around the school. “Our plans right now is to start school on time,” he said at the time.

Never again.

“That building helped a lot of people,” said Hutton, “there were a lot of wonderful moments, but it’s time to move on,” he said. “I remember in the ’80s when President Reagan told Gorbachev ‘Tear down that wall! (the Berlin Wall)’. ... Mr. Warner, tear this building down,” he said laughing, referring to Mike Warner, executive director of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (SMC).

Warner explained that the building was built before there was floodplain mapping. As the watershed changed with development and storm events intensified, the school regularly flooded. The cost of responding to each flood, including sandbagging efforts, relocating students, and clean up and remediation reached $300,000 per event, he said. And that didn’t include the cost of sailors from Naval Station Great Lakes who would come and help sandbag.

While the school board looked at a permanent solution to the flooding, the most economically feasible alternative was to remove the building and give the land back to the Des Plaines River. “The river is supposed to go through here,” said Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik, who said demolishing the school is part of the village’s flood mitigation plan. “Maybe some day we won’t have to sandbag. You can’t stop the river,” she said.

Warner from the stormwater commission said the SMC received a $3.2 million Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity “IKE” grant to acquire the school and a $750,000 Illinois Emergency Management Agency grant to fund demolition and site restoration into a new park with two soccer fields and a bicycle pathway surrounding it and hooking up to Viking Middle School on Old Grand Avenue.

“It’s designed to flood,” he said of the new park. The soccer fields have crowns in the middle so they will drain first and need just a little maintenance from the park district. “We’re anticipating that it will hold much more flood water than it does now, so that will help people downstream,” he said. The SMC said this is the largest of some 200 structures they have taken down in flood plains across the county. Two of those were businesses and the rest were homes.

Paul and Val Herson came by to pick up bricks for their sons, Brad, 18, and Eric, 14. “There were a lot of good memories,” Val said. Paul chimed in, “she got a little tear in her eye, but everything has its time.” She agreed, “I think it’s a good thing,” she said of the tear down.

Donna Cuilla, 67, of Gurnee got one brick for each of her kids, Chris, 45, Michael, 43, and Karen, 40. “It was very bittersweet. It’s sad, but you know it’s for the better,” she said.

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