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Legislation could aid Joliet in purchasing prison

Joliet Area Historical Museum would like to offer tours

Published: Monday, May 19, 2014 10:37 p.m. CDT

JOLIET – The city could have the option of taking ownership of the Joliet Correctional Center for $10 under legislation being suggested by Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., the City Council learned Monday.

Under the plan, the city would be able to develop prison property both west and east of Collins Street, City Manager Jim Hock told the council.

The city, in conjunction with the Joliet Area Historical Museum, has proposed offering tours of the facility at 1100 Collins St., better known as Joliet Prison.

Hock said he discussed the plan last week with Walsh, State Sen. Pat McGuire and representatives of the Illinois Department of Corrections and the governor’s office.

Walsh pitched the idea of city ownership Monday morning, Hock said.

Several council members expressed concerns about safety conditions at the prison, which closed in 2002.

Hock reiterated that tours would be conducted from outside looking in “through bars and glass” at this stage given the state of the prison buildings. Many are in need of repair and the cell blocks themselves are lined with peeling lead paint, Hock said.

The roof on the main building recently collapsed, he said.

“It was brick and it knocked out all three floors and came down into the basement,” Hock said.

However other areas on the 127-acre site, such as the women’s prison, which was built across the street in 1896, still are in relatively pristine condition, Hock said.

Councilman Jim McFarland said he was concerned about the city’s liability if it took ownership of the prison. He said the city might be better off focusing its redevelopment efforts on other sites, such as the former Silver Cross Hospital.

Mayor Tom Giarrante said the proposal would give the city a year to develop the prison site before ownership would revert to the state.

Discussion of the prison came up during an economic development presentation by Hock at Monday’s pre-council session.

Museum officials have proposed offering a bus and walking tours of the prison that would be led by former guards.

Points of interest would include an original single cell dated 1853, the solitary confinement building, guard posts looking upon interior prison cells and an external wall corner guard turret. There would be no access to the interior of any buildings.

Tours would originate at the museum, according to the proposal. Visitors would be bused to the site. Tours would be conducted five afternoons a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The museum would charge about $40 a person for the tour, Greg Peerbolte, the museum’s executive director, said. Revenue would be used to pay for mowing, tour guide expenses, bus transportation, insurance, marketing and preservation.

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