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A decision on the fate of the historic Rock Island County Courthouse has been put off two more months.

County board members Tuesday approved a resolution stating the public building commission will retain about $1.6 million through July 18 for asbestos abatement and demolition of the courthouse. The funds also will pay to install landscaping, berms and security bollards to protect the exterior of the new justice center if the courthouse is razed.

State's Attorney John McGehee said the document was not an intergovernmental agreement with the commission, but rather a resolution asking them to retain funds.

Board member Scott Terry said the resolution serves no purpose.

"This has no teeth," he said. "It says we will decide in the July meeting what we will do. I’m very disappointed, especially with all the information we have at this point. I understand the board wants to wait two more months, that‘s how democracy works. But it said we would take the necessary steps to raze the courthouse. I see this as political maneuvering. I think it’s unfortunate. I think we are better than this. I plan to vote against it."

Board member Kai Swanson asked for the resolution to be amended, striking a paragraph before members voted, that stated the county would do an updated review of and prioritize its facility needs, and explore whether a renovated courthouse could be part of the county's overall facility needs.

Swanson said the county had already done a facility review.

"We have constituents who are here, who have spoken, that are not convinced we have done our due diligence," said board member Kim Callaway Thompson. "If there is an eleventh-hour save (of the courthouse), then so be it. We’ve been elected to represent them. I am not going to (vote) for striking section two. The public believes we might be able to save the courthouse."

"Striking section two is simply saying we already have that information," board vice-chair Richard Brunk said.

Several residents spoke in support of saving the courthouse.

Bill Handel, a retired architect, presented a 3-D model of the courthouse and a photograph with an overlay, showing how the building would look if the main dome was rebuilt.

He said a synthetic plastic could be inexpensively constructed as a base for a simple metal-frame dome which could then be outlined in lights, similar to the Centennial Bridge.

"This a neo-classical dome modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome," Handel said. "As you come over the Centennial Bridge, you would see this dome floating above the city.

"You could use the (courthouse) first floor, remove the back exit stairs, and mothball the rest of building," he said. "Better to raise the old courthouse dome than to raze the old courthouse. The space between the old building and new one could be a restaurant. The way things work, you do a little bit at a time.

Diann Moore, of the Moline Preservation Society and Diane Oestreich from the Rock Island Preservation Society, challenged the commission's ability to legally use bond money for the purpose of razing the courthouse.

Moore, presenting a legal opinion from Peoria law firm of Quinn Johnston, said it differed from the Chicago law firm retained by the county, which asserts the commission's right to use bond money for demolition.

"Our attorneys disagreed with the report from Chapman and Cutler," Moore said. "It specifically says this money needs to go back to lowering the bond, not for demolition.

"I encourage you to (read) it. As a taxpayer, I feel it’s important we address the issue of this bond money."


Business Editor/Night City Editor