Old Joliet Prison under reconstruction

Work to be done this year on buildings in deterioration

A new lighting system would highlight the administration building at the Old Joliet Prison.

This should be a big year for restoration at the Old Joliet Prison, although prison management is still waiting on $6.5 million in grant money to pay for it.

The Joliet Area Historical Museum, which manages the former Joliet Correctional Center, on Monday awarded a $5.5 million contract to Berglund Construction for repairs at buildings targeted as most in need of repairs.

“Stop the bleeding. That’s our mantra,” museum Executive Director Greg Peerbolte told the Joliet City Council Prison Committee at a meeting on Wednesday.

Peerbolte provided an update on restoration plans made possible by a $3.5 million state grant and $3 million federal grant, both of which were announced more than a year ago.

“We still haven’t gotten a dollar from that,” Peerbolte said.

Peerbolte said the museum has been told the money is coming but it takes time to be distributed. He expects to see it later this year.

In the meantime, the museum is asking the city to provide $131,496 to pay the firm Klein & Hoffman for engineering work done in advance of construction. The museum would pay back the city once it gets the grant funding.

The Prison Committee voted to recommend approval of the loan, which will go to the Finance Committee also for a review before being sent to the City Council for a final decision.

“I don’t want to get in the habit,” Prison Committee Chairman Joe Clement said of the loan. “But we know that the funds are coming.”

The city and museum are partners in operating the prison. The city has a lease with the state, which owns the prison. The museum manages events and tours at the facility.

Peerbolte said the prison is moving ahead with restoration plans to get work done this year.

“While we’re working on getting it (the grant money), we’re still moving forward with the project,” he told the committee. “As far as we can tell, our request remains in the budget. But you believe it when you see it.”

The buildings slated for repairs are the Administration Building, which already is partially collapsed, cellblocks, the hospital and the chapel.

Two subcontractors working with Berglund on the project are Corsetti Steel in Joliet and Bennett and Brosseau Roofing out of Romeoville.

Peerbolte noted the importance of maintenance at the aging facility.

He said a sinkhole that developed in the prison yard last year when an underground tunnel partially collapsed was just filled up in recent weeks.

The prison built in 1858 was closed by the state in 2002, when maintenance basically stopped. The city leased the property in December 2017 and has been taking care of the site since.