Will County officials tour aging facilities
BY CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN Sun-Times Media March 26, 2013 10:48PM
Will County Deputy Sheriff John McDowell explaines how employees have to work in overcrowded conditions in the traffic office in the building on Laraway Road to Speaker of the Board Herb Brooks and other County Board members. | John Patsch~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 28, 2013 7:00AM
JOLIET — Something smells in the Will County Sheriff’s Police Department.
Two of its buildings have odors that caused Will County Board members to wrinkle up their noses Tuesday during a tour of the sheriff’s Laraway Station complex, at 2402 E. Laraway Road.
A training building smelled like mold. A gun range storage building smelled just strange.
“That could be a dead mouse,” range master Steve Eberhardt said. “The smell, you get used to it — you really do.”
But those weren’t the worst odors. Open septic tanks were super stinky. Sheriff’s maintenance workers have built a small building over the open tanks, but the smell was very strong, even on a cold March day.
“There are a medley of odors here,” said Republican Caucus Chairman Jim Moustis, of Frankfort Township.
Odors are just one of the many problems plaguing the sheriff’s department’s hodgepodge of aging offices and buildings. The department is scattered over six sites, including rented space at the Will County Farm Bureau Building.
Everyone agrees the sheriff’s department has a space problem. And a $427,000 study commissioned by the county board tells how the many sheriff’s offices could be consolidated at the 17-acre Laraway Station site. But the price tag could be $50 million to $65 million, said Mel Rull, executive director of the Will County Public Building Commission, which could oversee construction if the county board votes to go forward.
The project would cost closer to $65 million if it includes space for the coroner and the county’s emergency management agency, Rull said. Extending sewer and water to the site from the city of Joliet would cost an additional $2.5 million.
A draft of the Laraway Station study was distributed during Tuesday’s tour, but the final plan will be given to the county board’s capital improvements committee when it meets at 10 a.m. April 2 at the county office building, 302 N. Chicago St.
In advance of that meeting, the capital improvements committee and the judicial committee scheduled a joint two-day tour to get new board members up to speed on the county’s judicial and law enforcement space needs. The sheriff’s buildings were toured Tuesday, and a tour of the courthouse was scheduled for Wednesday.
The first stop Tuesday was the antiquated three-story Eagle building at 20 W. Washington St. It was built in the early 1900s as an Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge. Now the sheriff’s department houses investigators and other offices in the building, which is poorly insulated and has asbestos on pipes and in floor tiles.
According to maintenance officials, asbestos is in the grout around the windows, too. As a result, replacing windows would cost $1,000 each and there are 50 to 60 windows on the building. The boiler is so old “fire shoots out of it over a foot and we actually vacate the room when we turn it on every year,” said Mark Colwell, a sheriff’s department electrician.
Sewer problems have spawned a fleet of gnats that inhabit the building. And there are other plumbing issues. Last fall, the second-floor bathroom overflowed and water seeped down to Budget Director Allison Brothen’s office, which is in a former Eagles lodge closet.
“All of a sudden, I hear water dripping and I see puddles,” she said.
Plumbing problems afflict the Laraway Station complex, too. On Saturday, the water pump for the site broke and there was no running water or toilets for employees.
“They had to run over there to the Speedway,” Sheriff Paul Kaupas said, pointing toward the gas station to the west on Laraway Road.
The list of problems at the Eagle building goes on and on. The electrical system is overloaded, the walls are cracked and a lack of insulation makes it freezing in the winter and hot in the summer.
“If it’s 90 degrees outside, we’re lucky if we can get that second floor down to 82 degrees,” said Marty Ruzella, the sheriff’s maintenance supervisor.
The building isn’t handicapped-accessible, either. If people with disabilities visit sheriff’s department employees, “they literally have to carry them up the stairs,” said Deputy Chief Nate Romeo, who is in charge of support service.
County board members on the tour seemed troubled by the condition of the buildings.
“This is at critical mass,” said Reed Bible (D-Plainfield), who chairs the judicial committee. “We’ve got to do something.”
County Board Speaker Herb Brooks Jr. (D-Joliet) agreed.
“I think I’m moved by what I saw today,” he said. “I’m very much concerned about the conditions of the sheriff’s department. Now is the time to start to move forward. But when we actually break it down and start construction is another issue.”
Rull said the recent study shows four new buildings could be built on the property and the project would take three years from start to finish.
Moustis said there are options for funding the work, but those options won’t be identified until the board hears the final Laraway report and weighs other county office needs.
“That’s another discussion,” Moustis said. “It would be premature to say where funding would come from.”
While there are other capital needs in the county, including a possible replacement for the overcrowded courthouse that was built in 1963, the sheriff’s Laraway Road complex has become a top priority, Moustis said.
“Basically, what you have here is a bunch of old sheds and metal buildings,” he said.