Old Joliet Catholic High School gym will be demolished this summer

Council awards $1.2 million contract to R. Berti & Son

The old Joliet Catholic High School gym, a section of the building that stands alongside Jefferson Street, will be demolished in this year. March 13, 2024.

The city will move ahead with the demolition of the old Joliet Catholic High School gym, a delicate operation that involves removing a section of the building while leaving adjacent walls of a senior housing complex intact.

Also staying in place is the Victory Tower, the cross-topped structure that once housed the school’s victory light and was the inspiration for the name of the senior housing that now occupies the rest of the building.

Victory Centre of Joliet has occupied the old high school building since 1997, providing assisted-living apartments to senior residents.

The old gym became a sore spot after the city took ownership of it in 1997 with uncertain plans to use it for social programs but left it unused and unmaintained.

“It’s been a low priority for past administrations, and it’s fallen into disrepair,” Brent Fraser, the city’s chief operating engineer, told the Joliet City Council last week.

The council awarded a $1.2 million contract to construction manager R. Berti & Son of Joliet to oversee demolition of the gym and the old school cafeteria beneath it.

The city hopes to have the demolition completed by early fall. A start date for demolition has not been set.

Security fence surrounds the old Joliet Catholic High School and cafeteria, a section of the building that stands at Jefferson and Hickory streets in Joliet, March 13, 2024.

Problems with neighbors in the adjacent Victory Centre hit a high point a year ago as residents pushed City Hall to take care of a gym that was developing mold because of a leaky roof and appeared to pose a hazard of collapsing.

“It started as a nightmare about a year ago,” council member Jan Quillman said. “It was danger, danger, danger. That’s all I can say.”

The gym essentially had been abandoned for 30 years. The building last was used as a school in 1991. The city had the gym examined by structural engineers last year to ensure that it was not in danger of collapsing.

“I’m certain once this is done and it’s over, we won’t have to worry about it anymore,” Quillman said.

Making sure that is the case is one of the challenges of the project.

The demolition not only involves stabilizing the walls between the gym and the Victory Centre residences but also creating new exterior walls to blend into the rest of the building.

The gym and cafeteria of the old Joliet Catholic High School juts outs from a section of the building that contains senior residences at the Victory Centre of Joliet. March 13, 2024.

“We have to restabilize those entire walls and reclad them so it will look like it’s always been there,” Fraser said.

The gym and cafeteria are in the part of the building at the corner of Jefferson and Hickory streets.

Fraser said the work is expected to be completed by late summer or early fall. He emphasized that the demolition does not include the Victory Tower, which is a familiar part of the Joliet skyline.

“The iconic Joliet Catholic steeple will not be impacted,” Fraser told the council. “It’s in another part of the building.”

Brett Mitchell, an architect with the Ethos Workshop, which was hired by the city to design the project, said the new walls “will be finished to match the rest of the building.”

Mitchell said Victory Centre will be kept apprised of the project’s progress.

“Nothing will be a surprise to them,” he said.

Management at Victory Centre could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

he gym demolition at the old Joliet Catholic High School will not have any impact on the old school Victory Tower, which is in another section of the building. March 13, 2024.

Site preparation for demolition already has begun. Asbestos removal was completed in January.

What has not been decided is what will be done with the space when demolition is done. The space is on a hill that rises above the sidewalks below.

Council member Larry Hug suggested that the city offer the space to the Victory Centre.

“It’s a strange situation,” Hug said. “What are you going to do there? Maybe they can make a garden for the residents.”