Hickory Grove demolition begins

On Wednesday morning, the City of Rochelle hosted a commencement ceremony for its Hickory Grove demolition project.

‘We can't forget what it provided for our community’

ROCHELLE — On Wednesday morning, the City of Rochelle hosted a commencement ceremony for its Hickory Grove demolition project. 

Afterwards, the city turned the 1127 N. 7th St. site back over to its contractor, McDonagh Demolition, which had spent the past week doing site preparation and even started some teardown before the commencement. The work is ahead of schedule, as demolition was originally slated to start Jan. 24. 

“The sooner we get the project going, the quicker it finishes,” City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said. “It's really been about site preparation and getting all of their equipment here and staged. They started Tuesday. They got the front facade pulled off and the retaining wall in the back pulled down. They've moved very quickly. Hopefully the project progresses and we don't have any problems. It will be done hopefully at the end of March or early April, they expect."

The city assumed ownership of the deteriorating building in early 2020 for $1 with the intention of demolishing it and developing the property. The building was previously owned by the Ogle County Civic Center Authority (OCCCA) board, which was under the Ogle County Board umbrella. The city decided to purchase the site so it could control it and likely would’ve had to deal with it later if it was abandoned due to OCCCA being in financial trouble. 

The demolition work is contracted for $361,900. The project will be funded by a Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Rebuild Illinois grant reimbursement up to $365,750. 

City officials and staff members attended the commencement ceremony. Mayor John Bearrows spoke and detailed the building and site’s history and said it was a bittersweet day.

“It's mixed emotions being here today,” Bearrows said. “We see a building coming down. This building represents a lot of things for Rochelle. I want to publicly thank the Ogle County Civic Center Authority board, who worked for so many years to maintain this facility and tried to keep it alive. It's a melancholy truth that the day we're born, we begin to die. It's the same with a building, they have a useful life. This building met its useful life. But we can't forget what it provided for our community.”

Bearrows talked about the life of John W. Tilton, who was involved with the site in the past. He thanked Tilton for providing a recreation space and workspace for the community. 

Bearrows also thanked the state for providing the grant funding and talked about businesses that operated inside Hickory Grove, including Abraham’s Bar & Grill and Gentry’s Western Store. He wished safety for the contractor as the project goes on and thanked city staff members for their work on Hickory Grove up until this point.

After his speech, Bearrows took the controls of an excavator and tore a column off of the front facade of the building, symbolically beginning the project. 

Engineering firm Willett, Hofmann & Associates was hired by the city to oversee the demolition. It will have an onsite employee every day to make sure everything goes to plan. The building has some eccentricities including being connected to the hotel next door, shared utilities and an indoor inground pool. 

“I've said from the beginning since it's taken so long to get to this point because there's shared utilities and all the different components of that building that nobody knows about, my concern has been that we're going to find something,” Fiegenschuh said. “So far it's been going great. We have every hope and indication that they'll be done by the project deadline."

The city plans to wait until the project is closer to full demolition before it solicits requests for information for development projects on the site, Fiegenschuh said. The city has already had solicitations from potential developers, and the city manager believes there’s definite interest in the site. 

The most important component of any future development is getting the site down and prepped, Fiegenschuh said. 

“After that point, hopefully we get something that the mayor and council and the community are proud of that can locate there,” Fiegenschuh said. “We're not going to send anything out until the facility is pretty much completely demolished. I want to make sure there's no issues there. The number one issue right now isn't what's going to go there. It's getting the building down. And then we'll focus on what goes there in its place."

After two years of work, Fiegenschuh said it felt good to kick off demolition on Wednesday. He wished more people involved with the project and the building’s history were able to attend. The cold weather and short notice due to the contractor’s work moving along prevented that. 

The city manager praised the OCCCA board for its many years of work overseeing the disadvantaged facility. He wished some of them would have been able to attend Wednesday. 

“My sincere thanks to Former Mayor Chet Olson and the OCCCA board because they worked for years to keep that facility open,” Fiegenschuh said. “That board didn't have any taxing authority. The only revenue they had to keep that facility open was leasing space and events. When I was hired and started going to their meetings, it became apparent that they didn't have the resources to keep it open long-term. A lot of credit goes to them for working so hard for so many years. I think people didn't see that and I want to make sure they receive the accolades that they deserve. They really did a fantastic job."

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