Courthouse Demolition Timetable Set

Will County Court House 805033

By Nick Reiher
Will County officials are going ahead with plans to demolish the former courthouse, even if they’re not quite sure what to do with the land yet.
Meta Mueller, D-Aurora, chair of the board’s Capital Improvements Committee, knows one thing it will not be.
“It is not going to be a parking lot,” she said during a February 7 committee meeting. “I keep reading that in the paper. It will not.”
The county already has awarded a bid for asbestos removal for the 54-year-old building in Downtown Joliet, as well as a bid for putting together specifications for another bid to demolish the building.
That project, awarded to Kluber Architects, for $173,000 will encompass all aspects of what to include in the demolition bid, from securing the historic monuments in front of the former courthouse to make sure they aren’t damaged, to removing walls down to the foundation and the foundation flooring, and installing a drain system before filling the site to sidewalk level.
Dave Tkac, Director of Facilities and Capital Programming, said if all goes well, the bid for demolition, estimated at $1.3 million, could be awarded this summer, with work beginning in August and completion by the end of the year.
That is, if county officials have to, and can, clear a potential obstacle from the state.
Advised of the committee’s actions, Hudson Hollister, chair of a grassroots group to save the former courthouse, said the county will have some work to do.
”As a result of the State Historic Preservation Office’s February 2022 determination that the courthouse meets at least one of the criteria for listing on the National Register, the county government will not be able to secure state demolition permits without first making a showing that it has explored alternatives to demolition.
“In order to make that showing, the county government will need to issue a request for proposals on redevelopment. Multiple developers have confirmed they would respond to such a request if the county issued it.”
Hollister and other members of his group have noted that while many believe the former courthouse to be ugly, it is an example of the “brutalism” school of architecture, which emphasizes steel and stark concrete facades. Marina Towers in Chicago they say is an example of the movement, popular in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“The opportunity will be attractive to developers and private investors because it will be eligible for historic preservation tax credits worth up to 40 percent of the cost of a redevelopment project.
“We think the developers’ responses will be very interesting to the County Board and county leadership.”
Advised about Hollister’s claim, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said her office believes the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act does not prevent them from demolishing the building.
“The County Board has voted to proceed with steps toward demolition,” she said. “This includes voting to allocate funds for abatement, demolition site preparation, and demolition. We will continue to implement our action plan.
“We continue the process of working with local partners to identify the best public use option for the property to help revitalize downtown Joliet. Our conversations with the state regarding a historic designation on the former courthouse building appear to be different than the people working to stop the process.”
Since eight of the 22 Will County Board members are new, including several on the Capital Improvements Committee, officials went over some familiar ground.
Mary Tatroe, Chief of the Will County State’s Attorney’s Civil Division, has said at several county meetings the original deed for the courthouse property belongs to the people, with the county as the guardian. The deed requires the land be limited to public, i.e., government use; with no commercial uses allowed.
Changing the state law might entail a change in the state constitution, Tatroe added at the meeting.
Asked about Hollister’s claim, County Board Chair Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, said the county is exploring options, but not for private use.
“The County Board is exploring what possibilities may be legally possible for the old courthouse property. The land is held in a trust that was issued more than 100 years ago, holding the property with the required use of a public purpose.”
One option they are considering for the site is a new county building. She said they are running out of room at the current County Office Building at 302 N. Chicago St., and the county already is renting space for the Land Use Department and the county Regional Superintendent of Education.
Longtime Joliet resident, Nick Macris, co-chair of the courthouse preservation group, asked Mueller for a spot on next month’s agenda to discuss possible public-private partnership opportunities.
As of the Farmers Weekly Review deadline, Mueller had not decided on the request.

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