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County buys Gurnee Grade School to wreck it

Gurnee Grade School 940 Kilbourne Road. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

Gurnee Grade School at 940 Kilbourne Road. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 14, 2013 2:10AM

The now-vacant Gurnee Grade School on Kilbourne Road, constructed on a Des Plaines River floodplain in 1954, will be wiped from the scene later this year after the Lake County Board approved a $2.76 million project Tuesday to purchase the land and raze all structures on the site, bringing an end to periodic efforts to stave off Mother Nature.

Displaying a photo of the school surrounded by brown river water during the 2004 flood, Lake County Stormwater Management Commission Executive Director Mike Warner told the board that “the saying goes a picture’s worth a thousand words, (and) I would add that a picture’s worth a thousand sandbags.”

Warner added that there have been nine “sandbagging events” at the school since 1998, and each one cost roughly $300,000, not including the costs of displacing students and repairing any residual damage to the school.

The funds used for the demolition project were drawn from a $3.2 million grant secured by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development out of federal relief funds following Hurricane Ike in 2008, a natural disaster that Warner said reached into the state and Lake County.

Superintendent John Hutton of Gurnee School District 56, which opened the new Prairie Trail school last month to replace the Kilbourne Road facility, told the board that he’s already feeling relieved that he doesn’t have to keep an eye on the Des Plaines.

“I can’t tell you how great a day this is for us. We’d be planning for a flood already because we’ve had a lot of rain (with) the big snow last week,” said Hutton, adding that “we don’t spend any more time thinking about flooding and the impact of flooding. We are now 100 percent concentrated on what we can do for the children.”

Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik recalled her first flood after taking office in 2007, when then-U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk asked her “‘what else can I do to help the village?’ and I told him please help me get this you-know-what school out of here.” Kovarik added that she looks at the subsequent effort as an example of multiple taxing bodies working together toward one goal.

Echoing that theme, District 7 board member Steve Carlson of Grandwood Park — recalling that he once “sandbagged for one day and it took me several days to recover” — said officials from federal, state, county, village and school bodies “all cooperated for the good of everybody here. It helps the environment, it helps the taxpayers and, most of all, it helps the kids, and I’m very happy.”

The board also unanimously approved the expenditure of $977,736 in funds provided by the Illinois Emergency Management Administration to purchase and demolish five flood-prone properties around the county, including three near Gurnee Grade School.

Once the demolition at the school site is completed, the restored floodplain will be transferred to the Gurnee Park District to maintain as open space.

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