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Consultants share findings and recommendations to inform redevelopment at Harrison and McKinley school sites

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
WCBU file
The former Harrison school building on West Krause Avenue is scheduled for demolition by the end of the year.

Plans are starting to take shape for future development of the former Harrison and McKinley school sites on Peoria’s south side. But they’re apparently not yet ready for the public.

Peoria real estate agents and at least one Peoria City Council member were on hand Thursday morning for a presentation on the sites’ future, held at the Peoria Association of Realtors (PAAR) offices. They heard the findings and recommendations of a private grant-funded national team of consultants who spoke with Peoria stakeholders about wants, needs and collaborations in the area.

A WCBU reporter arrived to cover Thursday’s presentation but was asked to leave. Staff with the Peoria Association of Realtors told WCBU the information was not ready to be made public. PAAR and the Illinois Association of Realtors said the information would be released in 30 to 60 days.

The hollowed-out old school buildings were slated to be demolished by the end of the year. It’s unclear if that’s still the timeline. After the sites are razed, there has been a push for creating more affordable housing options there, as well as interest in creating more open green space.

The housing portion of Thursday’s presentation focused in part on the need for rent-to-own, or equity-to-own, properties near the school sites, said Alex Sierra, a Peoria Park District trustee who attended. There was also discussion about elder residents and those who have a strong sense of pride in the South Side.

“How do we prevent gentrification and protect current residents and not price them out?” Sierra said.

Sierra said he was “ecstatic” to hear the national consultants also saw opportunity for green spaces around the school sites. The city, Sierra said, has issues related to accessibility and transportation with its current green spaces. The consultants discussed the need to connect the South Side to the existing trail system that exists, Sierra said.

“We need to find a way to connect South Side to other green spaces and the trail,” Sierra said.

After talking to a wide array of stakeholders, officials with the Realtors groups said the next steps include sharing the presentation with civic and elected leaders. Sierra said it was his understanding that Thursday’s presentation was fairly high level, with plans for an in-depth report that’ll be produced for PAAR and City of Peoria officials.

The Realtors groups say the grant that funded the consultants’ work was highly competitive, with only three projects selected nationwide.

Contact Ryan at rmdenha@ilstu.edu or (309) 438-5426.