Time to See Some Progress on Former Courthouse

commentary editorial opinion

By Nick Reiher

Those of you who take the time to read this week’s Farmers Weekly Review cover to cover may notice there is a connection between the front-page story about the former courthouse and Will County historian Sandy Vasko’s column on Page 4 about historic buildings we lost to “progress.”

You also might notice it’s one of Sandy’s past columns since she’s on vacation. So, yeah, I picked this particular column for a reason: One of those old lost buildings she wrote about was the former, former Will County Courthouse, the one replaced by the Brutalist, concrete and glass structure that now is being demolished.

I did this not in any way to compare a structure built in the late-1800s, one that was a worthy companion to Union Station when the latter was built in the early-1900s, with the building coming down now.

Or is it coming down? Yes. Yes, there is a fence around the 54-year-old former courthouse. Part of the wall is coming down. So, it must be coming down. I think.

The last column I wrote in this subject included the prophetic phrase, “Unless there is a last-minute stay of execution …”

Well, wouldn’t you know, there were enough Will County Board members to have the “governor” say, hold on just a bit, supposedly because one or two of them had asked the Will County Executive’s Office for “missing pages” in the bid document to demolish the old courthouse.

Despite assurances the missing pages had been given to Board Member Dan Butler, he says he never got them. They also were on the county website as part of the document, the County Executive’s Office said.

Still, the holdup in actually handing these documents to Butler caused the formation of an ad hoc committee, the scheduling of a meeting to delay demolition of the courthouse until the missing pages could be found (but was not held after Mica Freeman willingly recused herself to avoid a quorum) and another special County Board meeting held to produce the resolution again.

When it was determined a resolution to delay the demolition wouldn’t be binding, Board Member Janet Diaz suggested filing suit. Nobody was sure whom to sue, for what and if it would work.

Ultimately, the vote was to defeat the resolution, in part, because the old Brutalist building already was coming down. Butler, Diaz and some others said it was a waste of taxpayers’ money to throw away a perfectly good building.

Perfectly good is a matter of opinion, one which the County Board in 2019 UNANIMOUSLY decided to demolish because they saw no future in it. Not even for a parking lot. Seriously, someday, it may be the site of a new government office building, one that might be shared with the City of Joliet, which has outgrown its own building to the west.

Meanwhile, all plaques have been removed from the former courthouse, a footprint from the previous former courthouse will be saved, and the monuments in the old courthouse square will be protected from the demolition work.

Once graded, the land will be used for a park until the county has the dough to start the new building.

All of this has been translated into “the county is wasting taxpayers’ money to put in a parking lot … or a $100 million building that will raise our taxes.”

Except, the county managed to build the new courthouse, a sheriff’s safety facility and a new health department building without raising taxes. Far be it from me to put in a good word for county officials, but I think they’ll find a way to do that again.

And if any of the current board members up for election this year are still on the board, they can help figure out how.

Or seeing as how you have the pages you were looking for; you can start thinking about what can go there and how to pay for it right now.

Nick Reiher is editor of Farmers Weekly Review. 





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