BARTONVILLE — Going.
The Bowen building stood sturdily for 122 years, a ponderous, looming presence on the hilltop overlooking Bartonville. For the first 77 years it functioned as the administrative building, nursing school and dormitory for the old Peoria State Hospital. Since 1973 it has sat mostly empty, a dubious “gift” from the state of Illinois and a limestone, brick, wood, glass and steel albatross around the neck of village government that never asked for it, and never really knew what to do with it.
After a failed attempt to renovate and cash in on its spooky notoriety as a site of haunts and supernatural fears, the village bought in on a plan to spare the Bowen the wrecking ball and end up in landfill and instead disassemble the building and recycle or sell most of the construction material.
“There’s still some site work that needs to be done,” said Chad Campen, the man with the plan to recycle the Bowen, pay back what the village thought it had lost for good and earn a little profit along the way. “We anticipate having the lot seeded and strawed by Tuesday and everything off-site.”
The three-story, 190-room, former state hospital building no longer occupies the suddenly smallish-looking space between Constitution Place plaza and Mohamed Shriners on Pfeiffer Road in the Bartonville Industrial Park. Now it occupies, in millions of little pieces, space in Hanna City owned by D. Brooks Excavating, where the materials are being sorted, stacked and prepped for transport and sale. The Bowen bits were trucked to Hanna City in 100 separate loads.
While the building has disappeared from site and sight, the deal Campen, a local farmer and businessman, and the village board struck years ago to make it vanish has not yet been consummated. In 2015, the village agreed to loan Campen $400,000 to finance his vision of deconstructing the Bowen, and selling its potentially valuable building materials — primarily the limestone veneered facade that was mined in Indiana in the 19th century. The deal also required Campen to repay the $340,000 the village loaned the property’s previous owner, Richard Weiss. Weiss, who had plans to turn the building into a haunted tourist attraction, defaulted on the loan two years ago. He has stayed on with Campen throughout the entire demolition and recycling process.
Enough money could be made in the sale of the materials, Campen said, to get Weiss back on financial solid ground, pay off the excavator and other employees and turn a proper profit for himself. None of that has happened yet.
“For the village to recoup all of their money it’s going to take a little while,” Campen said this week. “But in the end, do I think that everybody is going to get paid off? Yeah, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it. The proof is kind of in the pudding. We’ve gotten this far. It was a monumental milestone just to get that thing down and on the ground. Now all that’s left, I guess, is getting the money back.”
Former village board trustee Leon Ricca was consistently opposed to the Campen plan. More than once he called Richard Weiss a “snake-oil salesman,” for his plans to turn the Bowen building into a destination for people attracted to the building for its ghostly reputation. Ricca is now mayor of Bartonville, and his opinion of the project, like his government title, has changed.
“I didn’t support the idea,” Ricca said this week. “But once it was approved by the board it was in the best interest of the village to see it succeed. And now that the building is down and the site is cleared, I think it is all headed in the right direction.”
Campen said in January 2016 that he hoped to start cutting limestone in June and have the site returned to greenspace by September. That was a year ago. Unforeseen obstacles caused a series of delays and led Campen and Weiss to request an extension of deadlines last July.
“July 1 was the original deadline and that’s when we went in for the extension,” Campen said. “The board was fine. They could tell (the building) was coming down, but they still had their doubts. I don’t know. I mean, let’s face it — and I tell everybody this — they got a pretty good product at a lower price then what anybody else could do and they already are starting to get their money back.”
Campen said the sale of some building material has already led to a return to the village of about $20,000. More is on the way. He expects to salvage between 2 million and 3 million bricks. Some structural steel will be sold to a new New York City restaurant. He has a buyer on the East Coast for the limestone facade that he is not yet ready to divulge.
“I do wish he would let us know who the buyer is,” Ricca said. “That makes us a little nervous.”
Campen said the village will know all the details in due time.
“The village’s pressure is wanting to know who the stone buyer is, which makes me feel uncomfortable,” Campen said. “As soon as I can start shipping then they are going to know.”
Campen only needs to get the limestone trucked to Indiana. The buyer will pay to get it the rest of the way to its new home.
“I have some reluctance to release who the stone buyer is,” Campen said. “The sad part is that there is probably, not probably, there is enough money in just the brick to pay them off. They’re only worried about the stone proceeds, which I don’t quite understand, because I think it all goes together. The brick and the stone are both an integral part of the payback.”
Weiss said the total payback could be a couple of years away.
“No, not years,” Campen interjected. “It’ll get paid back in 2018.”
Campen said he wished the project wouldn’t have been as complicated and difficult as it turned out to be. But he’s glad he stuck with it.
“I just wish that it wasn’t as difficult, and I don’t think it should have been as difficult as it was. I mean every step along the way, first I’m told that I’m full of it that I’m never going to tear the building down. Then the building comes down and we’re told we’re full of it because I’m never going to sell the stone. It was just one thing after another. You know, that’s the part that sort of aggravates me. I’m just a simple person. I thought I was just trying to do something good for the village. I’m going to live here for 60 more years until I die. I’m not going anywhere. So I don’t know what they thought was going to happen in this whole deal.”
It took years, but Campen has finally won over the project’s most vocal opponent.
“I really think we end up with a nice marketable piece of property in the industrial park,” Ricca said. “I hope it works out that the village gets its money back, and they get a million bucks or whatever. I really do.”
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.