Rock Island Preservation Society urges collaboration to save county courthouse

Published: May. 15, 2018 at 9:53 PM CDT
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Rock Island County voted to wait until July to decide the courthouse’s fate.

The 25 board members have debated a timeline since December. Tuesday night, May 15, a resolution passed stating the county board would decide a course of action during its July committee cycle. Until then, the Public Building Commission will keep the funds needed for asbestos abatement and demolition baring any emergency needs from the jail annex project.

The use of funds from the jail annex project was debated by board members.

The PBC bonded $28 million for the project, but it is coming in under budget.

Board member Drue Mielke asked that the county to seek outside counsel to verify the legal use of the bonds for courthouse abatement and demolition. The Rock Island County State’s Attorney Office hired Chapman and Cutler LLP to review the issue. The group was used to originally secure the bonds for the jail annex project.

The Chicago attorneys stated the PBC could use the bonds for site preparation and demolition of the old courthouse. You can read that opinion on the side or bottom of this story.

But today the Rock Island and Moline Preservation Societies released an opinion from a separate attorney they hired.

According to Quinn Johnston, the county places itself at risk of potential litigation if they use the bonds to demolish the courthouse without voter approval. You can read that letter on the side or bottom of this story.

Rock Island Preservation Society Secretary Diane Oestreich says the preservationists have not decided what the next step will be.

“There are options,” Oestreich said. “We prefer always to work together to be collaborative.”

She and other residents have challenged the county board has not exercised due diligence in the search for alternative options to courthouse demolition.

“We were not given enough information,” Oestreich said. “Let’s put it that way…we would like to work with [the county board]. We would like to work together to solve this.”

She says they need more time to explore tax credits and other “creative solutions.”

“Unless we are listened to, we can’t do anything,” Oestreich said.

Although the board has decided to wait until July to decide the courthouse’s fate, conversations with members last week revealed little faith the courthouse will be saved.

“We have spent years doing our due diligence,” said board member Scott Terry.

“This is an issue that in terms of due diligence, we’ve beat that to death,” he added.

“My personal opinion, I don’t see a last minute solution presenting its self, but who’s to say, it could happen,” said Board Vice Chairman Richard Brunk.

Brunk, who belongs to the Moline Preservation Society, says he would love to find an opportunity to use the old courthouse, but as a county board member, he must think along different lines.

“As a county board member, as a county board vice chairman, as budget chairmen, I have a broader responsibility to the county, to the taxpayers, and we have primary functions that we have to make sure are funded,” Brunk said.

In other county business, the board approved the contract for new county administrator James Snider. He was present at the May 15 meeting.