Demolition begins at old Rock Island County Courthouse

Published: Apr. 6, 2023 at 8:56 AM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - Demolition started at the old Rock Island County Courthouse Wednesday morning just before eight. Crews took a wrecking ball to the building, marking the start of the demolition project.

Arguments have continued for years between the county and preservation groups about what to do with the old courthouse. The courthouse was built in 1895 and dedicated in 1897.

According to the Rock Island Preservation Society, the courthouse cost about $112,000 to build. It was renovated several times over the decades. Glass domes, balconies, a rotunda, and marble and mosaic floors were added. Talks started in 2012 about moving out of the courthouse and into a new one. In 2018, Rock Island County board members voted to demolish it, citing aging infrastructure and safety concerns. In 2019, a lawsuit was filed to stop plans to tear it down. Since then, there have been multiple protests and continued pushback from the public to save the building from destruction. Some argued the building is historic that should be preserved. The City of Rock Island issued a permit on March 31 to Valley Construction for the demolition of the courthouse. Protests continued through Tuesday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to save the courthouse.

“There’s hundreds of active people who have tried over the last seven or eight years to enter into a dialogue with county officials to help them understand the value of the historic courthouse. It’s an extremely valuable, irreplaceable historical landmark. So, it’s a sad day for Rock Island County,” said Greg Swanson with the Courthouse Revitalization Committee.

In a news release, Rock Island County Chairman Richard Brunk said the decision to demolish the building was not made lightly.

“It is important to know that the fate of the building was not taken lightly by the county, with the board working to evaluate potential reuse by the county, over a several month period in 2018- ultimately determining that the estimates of $16-20 million made it unattainable for the county to pursue,” said Rock Island County Chairman Richard Brunk, “It is also important to note that a number of factors make it imperative for the county to retain ownership of the property:

  • The history of Courthouse Square, which has been the site of numerous county courthouses and other buildings, since it was deeded to the county by presidential land grant in 1841, by President John Tylor.
  • Security and safety of those visiting and working in the Justice Center, which is only a few feet from the old courthouse. Today’s world mandates this be a consideration.
  • The eventual use of the property to consolidate facilitates, creating long-term efficiencies, to the benefit of county operations and the taxpayers. For a local government, purchasing real estate can be challenging and extremely expensive. With Courthouse Square right next to all of the county’s newest buildings, it creates the best opportunity for the greatest efficiencies.

While the demolition is unfortunate, the county has taken steps to ensure that the building is not lost to history. The Certified Recordation Process has been completed, which created a historical record for submission to the Lincoln Presidential Library and the Library of Congress, as required by the State Historic Preservation Office. In addition to this, the “Courthouse Square Memorial Wall” is on display in the Justice Center, outlining the history of not only the 1897 courthouse, but also that of Courthouse Square, and the other buildings that have stood on the site since 1841, serving the citizens of Rock Island County.”

Brunk said the county will first turn the land into a green space and eventually office space.

Demolition is expected to take more than a month to complete and cost about $100,000.