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Local News

Okon: Plenty o' Prison on Joliet City Council agenda

The old Joliet prison on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, along Collins Street in Joliet, Ill.
The old Joliet prison on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018, along Collins Street in Joliet, Ill.

It’s prison week at the Joliet City Council.

Proclamations and a presentation will be made as the city honors many of the people who have contributed so far to the opening of the old Joliet Correctional Center and takes a hard look at what it will take to make more of the prison accessible in the future.

First the hard stuff.

At the Monday pre-council meeting, which is basically a workshop session, there will be a presentation of the Klein & Hoffman report on costs and repairs needed on six key prison structures – the administration building, east and west cell blocks, chapel, hospital and powerhouse smokestack.

The engineering analysis sets a $10 million price tag for stabilizing the structures in the next five years.

Joliet officials are not daunted by the number – not that they expect to come up with $10 million between the city and Joliet Area Historical Museum, which oversees tours and other activities at the prison.

“We have no expectation that the City or JAHM will have the resources to accomplish all restoration efforts mentioned,” states the staff memo to the council. “However, we do have expectations that a combination of State resources, foundation grants, private donors, tour/event-generated revenues and continued volunteer resources will allow for continued progress on achieving the ultimate goal of making this site the Alcatraz of the Midwest.”

Alcatraz is a big tourist destination, although it does have the benefit of being across the bay from San Francisco.

Still, the Joliet Correctional Center, aka Old Joliet Prison, is down the road from Chicago and just off the old Route 66 that is traveled by tourists from across the country and around the world, which ain’t bad.

City and museum officials remain enthusiastic about the prison’s potential in just its second year of public access.

The prison is getting attention, an example of which appeared in the Peoria Journal-Star on May 12. I was in that area last weekend, and the Journal-Star carried a syndicated Washington Post travel article about the Joliet Correctional Center.

You know what the old show biz people used to say about if it plays in Peoria ... .

As I said, Joliet will honor some of the people who have made the prison revival a success.

At the regular council meeting on Tuesday, proclamations will be read for the following groups:

• Local volunteers from the building trade unions who have donated their services to prison restoration with specific mentions of the Three Rivers Construction Alliance, the Will and Grundy Counties Building Trades Council, and 13 union locals

• Old Joliet Prison Burn District Artists recognized for their creative reuse of prison debris for artwork

• The Old Joliet Prison Preservation Coalition, the subcommittee of the Joliet Area Historical Museum Board of Directors that includes more than 70.

• Bob Okon is a longtime Herald-News staffer. He can be reached at bokon@shawmedia.com or 815-280-4121.

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