Suspicious Fire Set On Former JDC Grounds

By Benjamin Cox on June 4, 2023 at 10:41am

The Jacksonville Developmental Center grounds was victim to yet another suspicious fire on Saturday night. It’s at least the third suspicious fire set on the grounds within the last 3 years.

Initial calls for a fire on the grounds came at 8:47PM after a caller reported seeing smoke and flame at building off of the Church Street entrance. Firefighters responded to the former Veterans’ Kitchen area and were able to find that a door to the entrance of the building had been set on fire. The Veterans’ Kitchen is located near the north central portion of the property that is more concealed from view. More centralized locations of the property have been mowed less and have accumulated brush and downed trees in lieu of the property’s management deferred mowing routine.

Jacksonville Fire Officials say they were able to extinguish the fire within a matter of minutes upon arrival, preventing it from traveling further into the building. The ignition of the fire and by who may have started it remains under further investigation.

The City of Jacksonville has had to battle multiple fire incidents at the shuttered facility. Five separate suspicious fires at separate locations were set on the property in June 2020. The former dietary building at the south end of the campus burned inside in November 2022. Vandalism at the property has also been a continued concern with major incidents documented in June 2016 and August 2019.

Despite recent attempts by local lawmakers and ire from city officials about the lack of upkeep at the property and barriers on streets to the property, the State of Illinois’ Central Management Services does not appear to have any answers for the ongoing issues.

A recent bill by State Representative Randy Frese to appropriate money in the state’s budget to abate asbestos on the grounds so the buildings can be torn down did not make it passed committee in the most recent session of the Illinois General Assembly. According to figures in Frese’s bill, it would take $67.6 million to get the demolition phase going.

A surplus property bill by State Senator Steve McClure that was passed and signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker in 2021 has also not brought any movement from the state.

Former Governor Pat Quinn closed the facility in 2012. It was estimated at the time of its closure in a study prepared by the state that it would affect $47 million in economic activity in Morgan County.