‘It’s gonna come down!’ Bustos presents Peoria with $1M check to demolish former Harrison School
Standing in front of the dilapidated former Harrison School building on Thursday with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos and other community leaders by her side, an elated Peoria Mayor Rita Ali made a long-awaited declaration.
“The old Harrison School, it’s gonna come down!” Ali announced to cheers from the crowd gathered along Krause Avenue on the city’s south side – a crowd that included retired long-serving Harrison principal Aurther Mae Perkins.
Thanks to a $1 million federal grant from the Community Project Funding program secured by Bustos, D-Moline, demolition of the 121-year-old building that has been vacant for more than a decade is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“For the first time in more than a decade, we've had an opportunity through Community Project Funding to make a decision on how money can be spent in our own congressional district,” said Bustos, who is retiring from her 17th District seat at the end of her current term. “Why this stood out, why we decided that $1 million was going to be used to tear down the Harrison School is because the community came together. Just look around, look at the people out here today.
“The community came together in support of this. I was not going to approve any project where there was infighting, where there were people who were saying, ‘No, we don't want the money to go to that,’ or ‘we want it, more importantly, to go to something else.’ We wanted to make sure that there was going to be community support.”
Appearing at Harrison before she received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Bradley University during the 15th anniversary ceremony for the university’s Institute for Principled Leadership In Public Service, Bustos presented Ali with a ceremonial $1 million check.
“This is a worthwhile project,” said Bustos, looking across the street to children outside of the Harrison Community Learning Center. “If you look behind you and see all the kids playing back there, this is about them. They've got a new, beautiful school across the street, but this is an eyesore and we need to get rid of this.”
Built in 1901 and renovated twice before 1950, the old Harrison building closed in 2010 and was sold to the first of a series of private owners two years later. Since then, the condition of the building has deteriorated.
“It has become a hazard in our community,” said Ali. “It's full of junk. I can tell you that there are there are hundreds of old tires in here. There are poisons, there's a lot of hazardous material in here. It's an eyesore to the people that live in this community (and) it's an eyesore to our Peoria city. But that changes today.”
Ali reflected on the building’s history with sense of admiration.
“We want to remember Harrison School for all the children that came through this once-great institution,” she said. “We want to remember (it) for all the teachers that taught here, all the counselors, all the people and the parents, the families that participated in learning in this facility.”
Peoria Community Development Director Joe Dulin said the city still needs to assess any environmental issues that need to be remediated before the demolition can begin. He said once the site is cleared up, they will hire a demolition contractor. He said if the project exceeds $1 million, the city has some additional American Rescue Plan funding allocated in reserve.
City Council member Denise Jackson called it a very exciting day for her 1st District and the south side residents.
“This federal grant puts us much closer to the demolition and finally on the road to more redevelopment here in our community,” said Jackson, who echoed Ali’s suggestion that the property could make a good location for potential affordable housing developments and green space in the future.
“I am excited because we've been waiting for this check for a while and it is here, and it's a big one.”
Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat called it a celebratory day that was long overdue for the city’s south side and the Harrison community.
“This just shows when we put our energy together and we work together, we can accomplish great things and big things,” Kherat said before paying respect to the Harrison School’s century of service. “She's done her work. Now it's time to lay it to rest in a respectable way.”