Hundreds of volunteers help clean up Joliet prison

Hundreds of volunteer labor-union members descended on the historic Joliet Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, last weekend to help clean up the long-neglected property.

The Joliet Patch estimated 200 to 300 skilled tradesmen were at the 160-year-old prison over the two days, along with volunteer labor from Homer Tree Care to remove trees and brush. Mayor Bob O’Dekirk estimated $500,000 in labor was donated over the weekend.

The Patch reported that union members from Will & Grundy Building Trades Council, Laborers Local 75, Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Local No. 265 and Painters District Council No. 14 were there.

The Patch also posted a slew of photos and video from the cleanup.

The Herald-News had some of the details of the cleanup:

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 union said earlier in the month it fielded so many offers from volunteers, it was forced to turn away a few of them. Union officials said interest in the volunteer project was high because people are curious to see what’s behind those prison walls.

“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.”

On a related note, the city of Joliet last week received a $40,000 grant from Illinois State Historic Preservation Office to conduct a Conditions Analysis and Structural Assessment on the prison, which closed in 2002. In short, the city wants to see how much it would cost to rehabilitate the facility.

The city seeks to eventually conduct bus tours in the prison, along with opening a hotel, restaurants and gift shops at its grounds. The prison remains a popular photo op for Route 66 travelers. The prison has been used for a slew of movie and television dramas, especially in the opening minutes of “The Blues Brothers.”

Evil Intentions, just weeks after the city linked the lease with the state to take over the prison, signed a sublease to run a haunted house in one of the prison buildings this fall.

The old Joliet Correctional Center shouldn’t be confused with Stateville Correctional Center, which sits in nearby Crest Hill, Illinois, along Illinois 53 (aka Route 66) and still is being used.

(Image of Joliet prison cleanup by Three Rivers Construction Alliance via Facebook)

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