New Will County courthouse moving into planning stage
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com May 19, 2014 7:24PM
Updated: June 23, 2014 2:21PM
Planning for Will County’s new judicial complex could begin this summer if the county board approves the scope of services outlined by Darien-based architectural firm Wight & Co.
In a meeting of the ad hoc courthouse committee on Monday, Jason Dwyer, Wight’s project executive, said the firm’s preliminary design work would include population projections, visits to other courthouses, meetings with those who use the facility, cost estimates and a concept plan.
Wight’s plan of action is to be discussed at the June 3 capital improvements committee meeting before going to the full board June 19.
Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt said presiding judges are “eager to start” and “ready to cooperate.”
To him, the most important aspect is to have the “most technologically current courthouse possible,” he said.
Dwyer said the planning process will incorporate technology and security, as well as overall efficiency and flexibility of operations.
The judicial complex will house judges, and departments including court clerk, state’s attorney, public defender, jury commission, sheriff’s department, court administration, court reporters and probation.
Dwyer said he plans to meet with all these groups to determine how they interact and how much space they need. If Wight’s plan is approved in June, he said he would like to begin meeting with staff “right away.”
“This is not just a courthouse. It is a judicial complex,” said committee chairwoman Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet. “We have to look at the interplay between all these agencies.”
The scope of Wight’s work also could include building of future satellite courthouses in the north and east sections of the county and the re-use of the existing courthouse.
If satellites are part of the overall plan, a smaller courthouse could be built now, Dwyer said.
“We could build what we need for next 20 to 30 years, then consider satellites,” Schoenstedt said.
Committee members suggested that the plan include the addition of commercial or public space in the new building, such as a cafeteria and meeting/program space.
The county just bought the First Midwest Bank building on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Ottawa streets in downtown Joliet — across the street from the existing courthouse — which could be demolished for a future building.
Some county officials have said remaining in downtown Joliet is a priority, but Wight said they could also explore the impact of moving to another location.
Financing has not been determined, but Schoenstedt said he is hopeful about House Bill 5889, sponsored by state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, that would allow Will County to impose a judicial facilities fee up to a $30 maximum to be used for the building of new judicial facilities. The bill is up for a third reading in the House after passing out of the Counties and Townships Committee.
Schoenstedt said it could generate $1 million to $2 million annually.
“We need to get our arms around a budget, determine what is appropriate and workable and balance needs vs. wants,” Dwyer said.
Some county board members have said they are opposed to raising taxes to pay for a new judicial complex.