Demolition of the Rock Island County courthouse is on hold pending a regulatory review by the State Historic Preservation Office, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) notified county officials this week that proposed demolition of the historic courthouse, built between 1895-97, is subject to state review according to the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act.
In a letter dated Nov. 29, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Bob Appleman notified Mike Harnung of Missman, Inc., that demolition of the courthouse was not included in plans submitted to SHPO for approval in 2016 for construction of the Justice Center Annex, 1317 3rd Ave.
The letter was copied to all county board members, Public Building Commission members and Rafael Gutierrez, chief of law enforcement for the IDNR.
Missman is the engineering firm that submitted all of the regulatory documents and permits to the IDNR and SHPO prior to construction.
"SHPO has been advised that either the original project submittal for construction of a new Justice Center Annex failed to identify that the historic courthouse is to be demolished following completion of the new structure, or that the original project has changed since the initial project submittal to include the demolition of the courthouse," the letter states.
"The letter of compliance issued by SHPO dated Oct. 13, 2016 is hereby revoked," Appleman wrote.
Because SHPO revoked the county’s compliance letter, the county will be forced to go through a new regulatory review while working with representatives from SHPO. It is unknown how long such a review will take.
Appleman sent the letter to county officials after Frank Butterfield, director of the Landmarks Illinois Springfield office, notified him of the situation.
Appleman could not be reached for comment Friday.
"According to the Preservation Act, the county is no longer in compliance," Butterfield said Friday. "To move forward with demolition would be in violation of that law. Consultation is required before demolition can take place.
"Landmarks Illinois hopes the result of this review process is to establish a good-faith effort to find a re-use for the courthouse that avoids demolition," Butterfield said.
State's Attorney John McGehee said although the county is taking the letter seriously, the state could not stop demolition altogether unless they filed a lawsuit.
"They would have to have some kind of legal action or court order," McGehee said. "The state would have to do something besides just sending a letter.
"It is a legitimate letter from DNR. This is a state agency that has put the county and the Public Building Commission on notice that there needs to be more paperwork with a response to this particular agency.
"I don’t know at this point what the ultimate consequences are going to be and how we are going to respond," McGehee said. "This is a legal matter that needs to be reviewed."
Butterfield said state preservation officers will review the annex project and "determine whether there are any adverse effects to historic resources.
"As we know, the Public Building Commission is proposing demolition of the courthouse, which is certainly an adverse effect," Butterfield said. "The courthouse has already been determined to be an historic resource as it was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
"This law establishes a process. It requires the commission to consult with SHPO to determine if they can avoid demolition."
The Public Building Commission approved a bid from Valley Construction of $430,490 for demolition during their Nov. 29 meeting. A contract has not yet been approved. It was the only demolition bid submitted for consideration.
The commission also approved a bid of $153,500 from Advanced Environmental Testing and Abatement of Waterloo, Iowa, for asbestos abatement. Gilbane Building Co. project manager Phil Thiele has said abatement is scheduled to begin Dec. 13.
Butterfield said abatement also must be put on hold pending a new regulatory review.
"Asbestos abatement would also be considered an adverse effect," Butterfield said. "As part of the project, it should be reviewed."
Public Building Commission Chairman Brent Ganahl said he was unsure when demolition of the courthouse became part of the construction plan for the annex.
"If the state says (the courthouse) cannot be demolished, then that will be the scenario," Ganahl said. "We do not own the building; it is the county’s building. We do not own the building."
County board members approved an intergovernmental agreement in July with the Public Building Commission transferring the deed of the courthouse to the commission for the purpose of demolition.
Commissioner Clarence Darrow said the county still has not transferred to deed to the commission.
"As long as the commission doesn’t have the building, the county is responsible for it," Darrow said.
Darrow said the letter from SHPO is a serious matter.
"The actual submitting of documents, that’s something the commission relied on Gilbane to do," Darrow said.
County board vice chair Mia Mayberry declined to comment, citing pending legal action against the county.
A lawsuit filed by Rock Island resident and Quad-Cities architect Italo Milani Oct. 11 will be heard Tuesday, Dec. 11.
Milani filed suit asking for a judicial review of the legality of whether using bond funds issued for the purpose of building the annex can also be used for demolition of the courthouse.
Courthouse advocate and Rock Island resident Diane Oestreich said the letter from SHPO proves the county did not include demolition of the courthouse in plans sent to the state seeking approval for the project.