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Volunteers needed for Joliet prison clean up event

By Megann Horstead, Reporter – news@thetimesweekly.com | 5/11/2018, 3:24 p.m.
The City of Joliet Prison Committee confirmed Monday that west prison site cleanup dates are scheduled for May 19-20.

The City of Joliet Prison Committee confirmed Monday that west prison site cleanup dates are scheduled for May 19-20.

Greg Peerbolte, executive director for the Joliet Area Historical Museum, said the community’s excitement over the prison is indescribable. He hopes that project leaders can “keep that community buy-in going.”

“It’s something probably I think about everyday,” he said. “There’s still places you go in Joliet, outside the City, that don’t know this is happening, that don’t this is going on. So, we want to keep making sure that the word is getting out.”

Work has been performed in recent months to cleanup the Old Joliet Prison. The site has been vacant since 2002.

All work completed on site will help prepare the prison for its grand opening, set for August. The event will feature food, music, site tours and more.

Peerbolte said project leaders can envision the prison’s new use being successful, in part, because there is a “huge existing tourism infrastructure, here, in Joliet, in terms of the physical proximity to Chicago, the [Route 66] Red Carpet Corridor, the [Illinois & Michigan] National Heritage Area.”

“Between that and our different education partners who are having a role in helping to shape this tour narrative, it’s an all-star list,” Peerbolte added.

The upcoming cleanup effort will consist of four shifts, with each one having 50 volunteers signed on to work.

Project leaders are in need of shovels, brooms, dusk masks, gloves, and water to support the work of volunteers.

Anyone who is interested in volunteering is asked to pre-register at https://www.facebook.com/events/2109112679371184/ or visit www.jolietmuseum.org.

Grant funding update

Also at the meeting, officials were given an update on the Certified Local Government Grant awarded to the City of Joliet for the prison study.

“It was very exciting news we found out in April that we received a little over $40,000 in state funding through the state grant opportunity to do a conditions analysis and structural assessment on all the structures in the prison west, which is around 16 acres,” said Jayne Bernhard, a city planner for the City of Joliet.

The grant was originally meant to provide 70 percent of the funding, with the City of Joliet picking up the remaining 30 percent, but the State of Illinois determined that it’s able to fulfill an 80/20 match. As such, the City is getting more money.

The cost to complete the prison study is estimated at $51,000. It will help project leaders to determine what work is needed to stabilize structures for future tours and events.

Bernhard said it will be at least another month before the City receives the funding it’s been awarded, due to staff changes in the State of Illinois government.

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin questioned if this will create any delays.

Bernhard negated the concern, saying the grant is effective through 2019 and that ongoing assessments of the prison will not be deterred.

Project leaders are pursuing additional funding for the Old Joliet Prison through the National Park Service, AARP, Home Depot, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Trip to Ohio State Reformatory reviewed

The committee was also briefed on a recent trip taken by City of Joliet, Joliet Area Historical Museum and Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce staff members to visit the Ohio State Reformatory.

Photos displayed during the committee meeting highlighted various components of the trip.

Peerbolte said Joliet’s prison has more real estate than the Ohio State Reformatory, which creates challenges and gives added credence to the community’s excitement surrounding the project.

Deputy City Manager Steve Jones said several ideas were generated during the tour, which could be applied to the Old Joliet Prison.

“We’re going to do a debrief amongst the participants to basically break down things, so we’ve got the ability to really see what it is that might work, here, in Joliet,” he said.