It’s possible that the Rock Island County Courthouse could and should be saved. But it won’t happen if this past week is any indication of the future. Tuesday night’s meeting felt less like a discussion and more like a bunch of people swinging at a target blindfolded.
There’s a lot of talk, but no proposals. There’s mention of a possible tax hike but costs are unknown. Clumsily walking backward into this process is the fastest way to rile up emotions and sink a project.
A dozen people spoke at Tuesday’s Rock Island County Board meeting about the fate of the 1896 courthouse. They were responding to rumors of a tax hike and protesting proposals that haven’t been made. The problem is that no one knows what it would cost to renovate it or tear it down. All we know is that something has to be done.
It’s time to put on the brakes, pull out the calculator and put pen to paper. It’s not the time to mention yet another tax hike for Rock Island County residents, not until all costs are known and all avenues have been explored.
The conversation unofficially started this spring at the groundbreaking of the Justice Center Annex, a project that will house four new courtrooms and some county offices. The cheering had barely died down from the annex celebration when officials turned their attention to the future of the 121-year-old courthouse. Could it be saved?
The courthouse at 210 15th St. is a victim of decades of deferred maintenance and is out of compliance with building, fire, electrical and plumbing codes. It is not ADA compliant and does not been Illinois Supreme Court minimum standards for courtrooms. That last issue raises a question if the building could ever be refurbished as a courthouse or would just be preserved as offices, governmental or private business.
But that’s not the only question. The public deserves input, but input must amount to more than simpy shouting into the forest to be heard.
This isn’t the first time Rock Island County has debated the future of the courthouse.
Wording in a protest letter written in 2013 about the courthouse project discussion sound uncomfortably applicable today: “In fact, the board has articulated no meaningful plan, yet the courthouse remains obsolete and in violation of the law. The courthouse is not an optional project. It is a fundamental duty of the county board.”
Neglect is no longer an option. Renovate or tear it down.
Let the public discuss. Let the voters decide if they want to pay for it. But let’s get the facts first.
Right now, is the perfect moment to reopen the discussion about the courthouse with the Annex project under way. But it must be more than discussion and it must be led by the board, who will have to choose a direction, soon, however uncomfortable that might be.