Bertino-Tarrant Gung Ho on Shared Government Campus … D’Arcy Says, We’ll See

A rendering of a potential Consolidated Government Campus located at 14 West Jefferson Street, viewed from the Northwest Corner. Will County and the City of Joliet have started conversations about a unified city-county building at the space.
A rendering of a potential Consolidated Government Campus located at 14 West Jefferson Street, viewed from the Northwest Corner. Will County and the City of Joliet have started conversations about a unified city-county building at the space.

By Nick Reiher

Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and City of Joliet Mayor Terry D’Arcy have partnered to explore the creation a consolidated government campus for both county and city services.
The unified city-county office campus would be located on the site of the vacated old Courthouse, which is slated for demolition in Fall of 2023.
D’Arcy later told Farmers Weekly Review some of the language in the press release issued June 26 by Bertino-Tarrant’s Office was a little “more optimistic” than he would have liked to see.
As an example:
“The potential for both of our governments to share a single space would be transformational for Joliet and Will County,” said Bertino-Tarrant in the press release drafted by her office.
“These conversations are a step in the right direction to prepare us for the future. Our region is continuing to grow, and we need to work together to ensure that county and city services are prepared for continued population increases.”
Several renderings have been prepared of how a consolidated government campus could utilize the property located at 14 W. Jefferson St. The renderings also included potential street-edge retail space to add to the continued revitalization efforts of downtown Joliet.
Asked about the proposed renderings issued by Bertino-Tarrant’s Office, D’Arcy said it’s all new to him.
“I first heard about this last week. I told the council something would be coming out from the County Executive’s Office. … We would have a lot of homework to do to pursue this.”
D’Arcy agreed space at City Hall is tight, and he and the council would consider proposals for a shared office building.
The release notes discussions about a consolidated government campus began as part of the Will County Board’s decision-making process to demolish the Old Courthouse in 2019.
The Will County Executive Office prepared a space needs assessment that determined that county government would outgrow its existing office space and that the Old Courthouse property would comfortably accommodate a unified government campus.
In the release, Bertino-Tarrant said she looks “forward to continued conversations between county and city officials about the great potential of this property.
“Both of our governments have clearly outgrown our existing space. Maintaining an open dialogue will ensure that we identify the best option for our residents.”
Will County non-judicial offices are currently located at the County Executive Office Building (COB), 302 N. Chicago St. along with leased space throughout Joliet.
The COB was built in 1947 as a Sears Department Store and became Will County’s primary government building in the 1980s, when the county’s population was around 300,000.
Will County now has nearly 700,000 residents and is projected to continue to grow, according to the release.
“As the press release states, conversation about a Government Campus has been discussed since 2019; with the pandemic, conversations stopped,” said County Board Speaker Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, contacted later by Farmers Weekly Review.
“Now that we are beyond that, we have to decide how we are going to move forward. This will be an interesting and exciting time for us as we work towards the best solution for space needs at the County.”
Joliet’s City Hall, 150 W. Jefferson St., was built in 1968 when the city population was approximately 75,000 people. That population has since doubled to more than 150,000 residents today, and the existing space has no additional capacity for city staff.
While City Hall was renovated following the relocation of the Police Department and Fire Department, the retrofitted offices have customer service centers and administrative offices inefficiently scattered throughout the building.
Local attorney Hudson Hollister has been leading a grassroots group devoted to saving the former courthouse, they say is worth preserving as an example of Brutalist construction from the 1960s and ’70s.
“The idea of a consolidated local government campus is a good one, but we should not sacrifice the old courthouse building to create it,” he replied when asked for comment by Farmers Weekly Review.
“Instead, the city and county should consider new construction on the empty block currently used as a parking lot immediately to the east of the old courthouse, and utilize the little-used commuter lots to serve it.
“To demolish the old courthouse would waste an opportunity to create a mixed-use destination complementary to a local government campus, including such uses as a conference center and rooftop restaurant.”
Hollister and members of his group have attended a handful of county board committee meetings to update the board on its efforts. They announced six groups interested in partnering with the county to develop the building.
But the State’s Attorney’s Office has said repeatedly the land is in a trust held by the county on behalf of its residents. That trust forbids all but public uses, such as for government offices.
To change that would mean asking the Legislature to change trust law for all cases in Illinois; not just for the former courthouse. Even if that happened, the State’s Attorneys Office said, the issue would have to be heard in the local circuit court.
At an April 4 meeting of the board’s Capital Improvements Committee, Dave Tkac, Bertino-Tarrant’s Director of Facilities and Capital Programming, said, all told, the county is spending about $500,000 to keep on minimal heat and electricity for security lighting, as well as the possibility of having to spend upwards of $100,000 a year for its own insurance if the county keeps it open much longer.
Tkac has 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. The land then would be graded and possibly used for a public space until the county develops a plan for a new building.
But Hollister’s group continues the fight.
At a May 24 public hearing of the Joliet Historic Preservation Commission, 12 local leaders testified in favor of the Courthouse Preservation Partnership’s application for Local Landmark protection for the former Will County Courthouse.
The commissioners temporarily blocked any demolition plans until the hearing on the issue could continue on June 28.
Asked about the grassroots movement, D’Arcy said in his opinion, which may differ from those of other council members, the old courthouse belongs to the county, and they should be able to do what they want with it.
“I already told the group the city does not want to be chained to the old courthouse,” D’Arcy said.

 

An aerial view rendering of a potential Consolidated Government Campus located at 14 West Jefferson Street. Will County and the City of Joliet have started conversations about a unified city-county building at the space.

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