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Will County is serious about space problems

Finance Director Paul Rafac left Nick Palmer chief staff for County Executive Larry Walsh review numbers Tuesday during workshop
county's $441

Finance Director Paul Rafac, left, and Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh, review numbers Tuesday during a workshop on the county's $441 million in building needs. | Photo: Cindy Cain

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Updated: June 23, 2013 6:38AM



JOLIET — The Will County Board is poised to start chipping away at its serious space shortage after more than a decade of debate.

With $14.3 million in existing funds, the county could soon start on a path toward $441 million in new buildings.

“We have a lot of cramped space and raggedy buildings, and things need to be done,” said board member Denise Winfrey (D-Joliet), chairwoman of the board’s capital improvements committee.

By starting small with existing money, the county won’t be forcing taxpayers to reach deep into their pockets, and it won’t be crippling its budget for years to come, Winfrey said.

Her committee met for four hours Tuesday regarding a long-discussed master plan to ease the county’s space crunch and modernize county buildings. But the talks never went anywhere because of the big price tag for all of the work.

That seems to be changing. Projects now under discussion include a new courthouse in downtown Joliet, a new sheriff’s department complex on Laraway Road and a consolidation of offices throughout the county.

The plan is similar to a game of dominoes. When one office moves into or out of a building, that triggers a move by another office, said Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh.

Palmer and finance director Paul Rafac on Tuesday presented a list of projects and a staging plan that would start Will County on a path toward modernization. They include:

$2.5 million to extend sewer and water lines to the Laraway Road site and remediation of septic and water-flow problems on the property. The work would also include new entrances.

$4.5 million to acquire and remodel the First Midwest Bank building at Jefferson and Ottawa streets in Joliet. That would free up space to consolidate some county offices there and allow the state’s attorney’s office to be entirely at the Will County Courthouse Annex. The bank building eventually would be torn down to make way for a new courthouse.

$1.3 million for the former Social Security Administration building on the southeast corner of Cass and Scott streets in Joliet. This building could house the county’s land use department, which would eliminate $250,000 in annual lease payments.

$2 million to remodel the courthouse annex, 57 N. Ottawa St., to make room for state’s attorney’s office employees who are now in another former bank building at 121 N. Chicago St.

$4 million for a new evidence storage building and training areas for the sheriff’s department at the Laraway Road property.

“All of these things are things we can do now with our existing resources,” Rafac said. “ ... It will be up to the board how they want to proceed.”

Palmer said some of the work is contingent upon an agreement with Joliet for a swap of some properties. That agreement and some of the acquisitions are likely to come before the county board this summer or fall.

In the meantime, the capital improvements committee may vote soon on the overall plan to get the ball rolling. All in all, board members who attended Tuesday’s meeting seemed pleased that action was being taken after years of studies that wound up on shelves.

“We might not get there tomorrow, but we’ve got to start putting this into some kind of time line,” board member Chuck Maher (R-Naperville) said.



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