JOLIET – About 200 volunteers cleaned the old Joliet prison for two days as part of an effort to revamp the property.
Power saws tore through metal fencing. Dust filled the air in the more-than-a-century-old hallways. Miscellaneous pieces of debris and trash were piled up and taken away.
The hundreds of volunteers from Laborers Local 75 flooded the Joliet Correctional Center on Collins Street on Friday and Saturday to tear down and dispose of fencing and barbed wire and to clean up everything left behind after the prison closed in 2002.
“I have a select group that’s taking down all the fencing in here,” said Thomas White, executive director of the Three Rivers Construction Alliance. “That’s the iron workers, laborers, carpenters taking down the fencing. Then we have painters and all of them cleaning out the buildings, just doing a general cleanup.”
The Joliet Area Historical Society worked with unions and contractors to organize the massive cleanup effort.
The leaders of the cleanup even had to turn away some interested workers because they got so much interest from individuals wanting to help out.
Union members had already toured the facility to see how they could help with the cleanup, and Homer Tree Services cleared out trees to open space on the 128-acre property.
The cleanup was just one part of the process to get the prison ready for safe access for tours this summer.
Joliet got access to the property through entering into a five-year lease with the state, which owns the prison.
The City Council also narrowly approved a lease for an Elgin company called Evil Intentions to put in a haunted house in the former women’s prison during the Halloween season.
A number of local public officials including Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk, Will County Board member Lauren Staley-Ferry and Joliet City Council members Jan Quillman and Don “Duck” Dickinson were on hand to greet and thank the volunteers and oversee their progress.
O’Dekirk said the volunteers provided about $500,000 in free labor to clean the prison.
“What you’re seeing today is organized labor stepped up,” O’Dekirk said. “This was crucial. We couldn’t have done this [without organized labor]. You see the scope of what needs to happen. It’s a massive cleanup.”
Ultimately, a number of the volunteers who were familiar with the prison and its legacy were just excited to get the opportunity to see what was behind the prison’s walls, which made their hard work all worth it.
“It’s pretty neat in here,” said Kevin Hray, business manager of the Iron Workers Local in Joliet. “Everybody always kinda wondered what it looks like. It’s history.”
The leaders of the project recently told the city’s Prison Committee they were aiming for a three-day grand opening to the public with music, food, tours and a ribbon cutting in late August.