Rock Island Preservation Society launches campaign to save county courthouse

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ROCK ISLAND CO., Ill. (KWQC) – On the corner of 15th Street and 3rd Avenue in Rock Island sits a sign. It is kitty corner to the County Courthouse. It reads: Rock Island Courthouse Renovation.

The Rock Island Preservation Society placed it there over the weekend. They say it is time to be more outspoken about what needs to be done to save the more than 120-year-old structure.

“We fully believe the courthouse is a building worth saving not only for its historic quality but because it’s a very sturdy, strong structure,” said Diane Oestreich with the Preservation Society. “

The building’s future has been up in the air since construction on the new jail annex began in March 2017. The project was approved without public input because of safety concerns and building violations in the courthouse.

Since then there have been several discussion about demolishing or saving the building. The most recent was last week. The county Governance, Health and Administration Committee sent a proposed intergovernmental agreement back to the county attorney for further clarification.

The agreement currently being worked on would allow the Public Building Commission to use bonded money from the annex project to demolish the courthouse. The money will only be available until the project is finished. The anticipated project completion date is fall 2018.

Oestreich feels the decision to save or raze should not be rushed.

“Possible tax credits in Illinois are a very real thing this year,” Oestreich said. “If we need a sales tax, that would have to go on the ballot in November.”

In 2016 a one percent sales tax to help school infrastructure passed the November ballot. But a ½ percent public safety sales tax did not. The county board tabled a decision to put the measure back on the ballot this past spring, 2018.

The Preservation Society is hoping this campaign will encourage people to let their county board members know they are willing to pay taxes to restore the building.

“Bottom line – it is going to cost us something,” Oestreich said.

Oestreich says the courthouse is being considered as one of Illinois’ most endangered properties. The statewide list will be released April 25. If the building is put on the list, Oestreich hopes this will make the courthouse issues a statewide one rather than just a local concern.

If the timeline holds, the county’s Governance, Health and Administration will reconsider an intergovernmental agreement to tear down the courthouse May 7.