NORMAL — For Byron Benscoter, Tuesday was bittersweet.
Benscoter, a long-retired Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School employee, lived across the street from the ISSCS Administration Building for decades after it closed in 1979 — all the way until it tumbled to the ground.
“It’s kind of sad because I think the place should have stayed open. There are a lot of children in the state of Illinois that could use it today,” he said. "It’s too bad it has to go, but everything can’t stay around forever.”
Demolition got underway ahead of schedule Tuesday, said Nicholas Africano, an artist who owns the property at Beech and Oglesby streets in northeast Normal.
“I anticipated they would take a bit longer to do the remediation,” he said of the Stark Excavating crew razing the building. "I don’t think they are prepared to say an exact (completion) date, but we’re anticipating getting the results they had today, that it shouldn’t take a terribly long period.”
Africano has until Oct. 15 to demolish the building under a deal with the town of Normal. The town agreed in September to pay Africano $500,000 after the demolition is finished; in return, he'll give the land to the town and develop the adjoining infirmary building, which he also owns.
Africano said he's still seeking funding for the infirmary project. He has until September 2018 to finish that project.
“Seeing the Administration Building come down is resulting in a renewed sense of the gravity of my obligation to proceed with the renovation of the infirmary building,” he said. “We’d like to get going as soon as possible.”
The deal also requires Africano to address the council every 45 days with updates on his progress. So far, he hasn't done so.
"I haven’t been asked to address the council and think, after today, we will have demonstrated the progress they have anticipated is on or ahead of schedule,” he said. “The financial issues attached to the development of the infirmary building will be ready to present as soon as we complete phase one, which is the demolition.”
Africano said the demolition gives him "a great sense of relief and closure." Africano bought the Administration Building, infirmary and nine other buildings before a 1991 bankruptcy hearing for One Normal Plaza, which bought the properties in 1983. The nine other buildings have been renovated.
The town hopes to sell the land, though the agreement also includes an option for Africano to buy the Administration Building site back within two years.
Then-council member Cheryl Gaines said in September the town benefits from the demolition regardless because the building is "a terrible accident waiting to happen." Officials said trespassing and vandalism on the site are common.
ISSCS took care of thousands of orphans and wards of the state over more than 114 years in operation.