Will County plans may mean old Joliet courthouse's days are numbered
Will County is looking at demolishing the old county courthouse in Joliet to make room for a new county administrative campus that would allow residents to access all county services in one location, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The county is continuing plans for a new courthouse to be located at the corner of Ottawa and Jefferson streets, with construction expected to begin next spring. It recently had the courthouse project architect, Wight and Company’s Jason Dwyer, provide cost estimates for repurposing the current county courthouse.
The building is more than five decades old and was originally designed to house court and administrative functions, creating an odd mix of office space and larger courtrooms. Will County Board member Ray Tuminello (R-New Lenox), chairman of the County Board Capital Improvements Committee, told the Tribune that Dwyer has quoted a cost of nearly $43 million for renovation and repurposing the old courthouse, whereas razing the building would cost $1.2 million, including site work.
The repurposing figure would include upgrades to the building's structure and systems that would make it more accommodating in the long-term, including replacing windows and putting new mechanical systems in place. But according to Dwyer, even with upgrades, the old structure would be more expensive to operate and maintain.
"Whatever happens there should be long term,” Dwyer told the Tribune. “You could spend a lot to renovate it, and it would not give you everything you want."
Tuminello has suggested creating new facilities on the site that would group all of the county’s services in one place, making things more convenient for residents.
The county’s administrative departments are currently spread throughout the area, making it confusing for some residents trying to access county staff. According to County Board Speaker Jim Moustis (R-Frankfort Township), those are the limitations of the old courthouse building.
"Everyone was in that building,” Moustis told the Tribune. “As the county grew and we needed more courtrooms, we decentralized. That's how we ended up all over the county."
Tuminello’s proposal would also likely save the county money in the long run, as the board currently has to budget approximately $1 million for rented office space annually, according to Tuminello.
The county is also planning to develop a new facility to house the health department, which is in an aging building at 501 Ella Ave. in Joliet. Tuminello has suggested that this new facility be incorporated into the administrative campus, along with the land use department and the regional office of education, as well as the public defender office and specialty courts that won’t be located in the new courthouse.
"All services that residents would use would be in one location and close to public transportation," Tuminello told the Tribune.
Tuminello is not the first to propose bringing the county departments under one roof, however, and the previous suggestion, in 2009, was shot down on the basis that it would create problems with parking and traffic. Despite these considerations, which will have to be addressed before the plan moves forward, the idea has garnered support from Tuminello’s colleagues on the board.
"Let's see if Ray's plan makes sense for people and financially,” Board member Mike Fricilone (R-Homer Glen), a member of the Capital Improvements Committee, said. “It's very possible we can do this."
County Board Democratic leader Herb Brooks Jr., (D-Joliet), whose district would house the offices, is also supportive of the proposal.