Rock Island Courthouse23

The concrete steps at the entrance to the Rock Island County Courthouse is in need of repair. (John Schultz /Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

Rock Island County leaders attempted Monday to convince a skeptical public to put their “yes” marks on an upcoming referendum about the old courthouse.

About three dozen people attended the public forum at Rock Island’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center. Of all the questions, the majority sounded critical of the county’s latest effort to address the 117-year-old edifice.

“I want to know, are they going to get a blank check to do what they want to do, and we don’t have any more say?” Louie Alongi of Rock Island asked Sheriff Jeff Boyd while pointing to Phil Banaszek, the county board chairman.

Boyd, who sits on an ad hoc committee looking at courthouse solutions, said that besides the referendum, the public has multiple opportunities to voice opinions.

Banaszek assured that the county board, which has final say on what happens to the courthouse, will attempt to seek the most “cost-effective” solution for taxpayers.

Some complained the wording of the referendum, which doesn’t include the word “courthouse,” is vague.

It says: “Shall the County Board of the County of Rock Island be authorized to expand the purpose of the Rock Island Public Building Commission ... to include all the powers and authority prescribed by the Public Building Commission Act?”

“It’s too vague,” Elizabeth Keller of Moline said. “I’m going to vote ‘no.’ I’d like to know what they’re going to spend money on before I give them the go ahead to spend.”

“It’s too open-ended,” Bill Long of Rock Island said. “Nothing will stop them, once that it’s passed, from spending money elsewhere.”

The public building commission was established in the 1980s, and its authority is limited to the county jail and Justice Center, built in 2001. The commission is the body that secures financing, owns the buildings and leases them to the county. At least a dozen counties in Illinois have public building commissions, including Mercer County.

The ad hoc committee decided last week that it unanimously supports the referendum to expand the commission and that its mission before April 9 is to convince people to vote “yes.”

Banaszek used the courthouse’s deteriorating condition to sell his “yes” vote on the referendum.

“It has become dangerous to the general public, the staff who works there and your wallet,” he said, citing “windows held shut by wooden sticks” among the many problems.

Circuit Judge Mark Vandewiele said the courthouse does not meet any modern building or fire codes and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“That building has not been totally written off,” Vandewiele said. “But it cannot be renovated to meet court needs.”