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Peoria Park District trustees hope to bring more green to south side

Described as a hazard and an eyesore, the 121-year-old former Harrison School building is expected to be demolished by the end of the year.
Joe Deacon
The former Harrison school building on West Krause Avenue is scheduled for demolition by the end of the year.

During its first meeting since December 2019, the Peoria Urban Forestry Advisory Board learned about a potential project that could bring more trees to the city’s south side.

Peoria Park trustees Joyce Harant and Alex Sierra see the introduction of more green space as a way to improve the quality of life in Peoria’s 61605 zip code area.

Harant said there is a lot to be gained from an urban forest, from violence prevention to economic investment.

“It will be something to plan around,” she said. “That you can plan other infrastructure around to meet the needs of the people and for jobs and other businesses.”

Harant said the idea started with Sierra this past spring and they believe the lots of the former McKinley and Harrison schools could be the perfect location. Both buildings are expected to be demolished by the end of the year.

“I had recognized that there is no protected space within the southern district,” said Sierra. “Amongst those areas there’s no protected preserved space by the state.”

Sierra clarified that protected, preserved space means space where any development or construction wouldn’t be allowed, leading to urban forests and green rehabilitation.

At the meeting, City Manager Patrick Urich said his staff would have to put together feasible concepts and locations for the project.

“I think some of that is ... having the staff look at it and saying, 'Where does it make sense for us to look at?'” said Urich. “Are there corridors in the south side, for example, that we can look at?”

Urich offered the example of land that the city had purchased around 20 years ago along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive for a potential forestry corridor out to the airport. Urich did not specifically address the proposed locations at the former school sites.

Community Development Director Joseph Dulin said that, in discussions, the city council had informally decided to prioritize affordable housing development in the area. Harant believes there could be a middle ground for both.

“You need to give serious thought and planning to where you will have trees,” said Harant. “And the density of trees. Because they reduce violence.”

These discussions are still in very early stages. The Peoria Urban Forestry Advisory Board will meet next on Oct. 11.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.