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Will County vows building projects will go forward

Updated: May 5, 2013 2:37PM



Will the Will County Board shelve the results of a $427,000 study that says it needs to spend $50 million to $65 million on capital improvements for the sheriff’s department?

Not this time, said board Speaker Herbert Brooks Jr. and Denise Winfrey, chairwoman of the board’s capital improvements committee. The Joliet Democrats said the board’s inertia on some major public projects is about to end.

Winfrey said county residents would notice a difference in the way the county handles its much-debated need for a comprehensive building plan.

“We’re going to make some progress,” she said.

Of course, there’s that pesky problem of where the money will come from for new buildings for the sheriff’s department, which are planned for a site at U.S. 52 and Laraway Road where the department has older buildings now.

But the funding issue will be debated by the board’s finance committee at a future time, capital improvements committee members agreed. They also agreed that at their May 7 meeting they will schedule a workshop to discuss the results of the sheriff’s department study, which they received at Tuesday’s meeting.

The study recommends a building plan to improve office, storage and training spaces for the department, one of several whose leaders have been clamoring for extra space and updated offices for years.

According to the new study, the county’s population has grown by 109 percent since 1980, from 324,460 to 677,560 in 2010. The 2030 population is estimated at 1.2 million.

That growth rate has left many county offices, especially the sheriff’s department, facing a severe space shortage, according to the study done by DLR Group of Chicago.

The sheriff’s department has six locations and 10 buildings, which makes operations “extremely difficult” and intra-agency coordination “unnecessarily challenging,” the study says.

If the county board finds the money for improvements at the department’s Laraway Station, the site could also house the county’s emergency management agency and the coroner’s office.

The plan is similar to one proposed in 2001 that went nowhere. But that’s normal for government, said Republican Caucus Leader Jim Moustis, of Frankfort Township. That’s what happened with the county’s last big building project, which cost $70 million and was completed in 2009.

“The jail expansion took five years of discussion before we actually pulled the trigger,” said Moustis, who has been on the county board for 20 years.

However, there are 11 board members who took office after the Nov. 6 election, and Democrats have a majority for the first time in 32 years.

Moustis said there seems to be more of a consensus on the board now to move ahead with some building projects.

And there’s one other thing that the committee members agreed on — spending $2.5 million to extend sewer and water lines to the Laraway Station site has to be done regardless of what else happens.

“Let’s get that fixed now so you can flush a toilet,” board member Bob Howard (D-Beecher) said.



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