Will County takes first step toward new courthouse
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org August 6, 2013 8:32PM
Sheriff's department and courthouse officials continue a conversation Tuesday in front of the Will County Office Building about plans for a new courthouse and improved security at the existing courthouse. The two topics were discussed during the county board's capital improvements committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. From left to right are Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas, Courts Administrator Kurt Sangmeister, Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt and Sheriff Paul Kaupas. | Cindy Wojdyla Cain~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 8, 2013 6:22AM
JOLIET — Will County is taking a step that puts it on a “long journey” toward building a new courthouse, said Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh.
“This is the first step in many,” said Palmer, one of the architects of a master plan that deals with the county’s long-term space crunch.
On Tuesday, the county board’s capital improvements committee agreed to create an ad hoc panel to begin planning for a new courthouse in downtown Joliet.
“I’m ecstatic that we’re moving forward,” said Circuit Court Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt, who has been pushing hard recently for a new building.
Once the size of the courthouse is determined, the county will seek a firm to design and build it, probably at the site of the First Midwest Building, 50 W. Jefferson St., which is across the street from the existing courthouse at 14 W. Jefferson St.
Palmer said he’s close to finalizing the purchase of the bank building. Past estimates have placed its price at about $4 million.
The existing four-story courthouse, which opened in the late 1960s, is overcrowded and outdated, chief judges have said for years. But until Tuesday, county officials have mostly just studied the problem.
Palmer and county finance director Paul Rafac have put together a plan, however, that goes further — including a courthouse and a new complex of buildings for the sheriff’s department on land the county owns at Laraway Road and Illinois 52.
“This is about moving forward on multiple fronts and striving for efficiencies and cost savings,” Palmer said of the plan, which will happen in phases.
No financing source for the courthouse has been identified, but that will be up to the county board to determine at a later date, said board member Jim Moustis (R-Frankfort Township), chairman of the board’s Republican caucus.
One past study estimated that a new courthouse could cost $200 million, but Schoenstedt said that price could be reduced if some floors are built as shells that could be completed later.
Much of the downtown plan hinges on the acquisition of the First Midwest Bank building. Once that’s done, the county could move sheriff’s department offices, its merit commission and internal affairs along with the public building commission and possibly the coroner’s office into the building.
That would allow the county to consolidate the state’s attorney’s office in the court annex, formerly the Emco building, at 57 N. Ottawa St. Currently, the state’s attorney’s office is split between two buildings — half in the annex and the other half in a smaller building at 121 N. Chicago St.
Eventually, offices housed at the First Midwest Bank building would be moved to the Laraway Road complex, and the building would be torn down to make way for the courthouse. The current courthouse would probably remain for the civil courtrooms or other county needs, Palmer said, but that will be determined later.
Overall, the plan is designed to consolidate county offices, provide more space for the judiciary and reduce private lease payments, Palmer said.
Also Tuesday, the capital improvements committee directed the sheriff’s department to work with the chief judge on an improved security plan for the existing courthouse, and it asked Schoenstedt to use money in a courthouse parking lot fund to pay for the study that will determine the size of the new courthouse. Schoenstedt said he would discuss the request with the judges. The fund has $1.5 million that has been saved to help pay for the new courthouse, he said.