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Rock Island County Courthouse

The Rock Island County Office Building at 1504 3rd Ave. opened in 1898 as the headquarters of Modern Woodmen of America.

Here's a simple fix for the fiasco in Rock Island County: The county board should stop ducking the issue and OK demolition of the old courthouse.

There. Was that so hard?

It shouldn't be, but in Rock Island County even the most obvious solutions devolve into territorial disputes. 

That's precisely what happened in the past week, with a pair of county board members, Drue Mielke, Coal Valley, and Don Johnston, Moline, again making a back-door bid to save the decrepit building from the wrecking ball.  

Chief Judge Walter Braud has worked with the county Public Building Commission to run roughshod over county board oversight, they said. Braud's campaign to raze the 121-year-old building goes against the best interest of Rock Island County, they contend.

On the first point, Mielke and Johnston have a legitimate argument. On the second, they're flat wrong.

In 2013, an architectural firm the courthouse was beyond repair. Braud says the real cost is north of $20 million. He's probably right.

What's true is a small, vocal group of historic preservationists have packed county board chambers demanding the building's continued existence. What's also true is that a slew Rock Island County taxpayers have made clear they don't want a tax hike to pay for rehabbing the courthouse. 

Considering the uphill climb recent sales referendums have faced, it's reasonable to conclude that the latter group speaks for the bulk of Rock Island County.

The new Justice Annex will tout all the amenities required by the modern justice system. The annex has cost tens of millions. But democracy comes with a price tag. Put simply, the old courthouse was a hazard no longer fit for service. 

Very soon, it will be wholly redundant.

Since 2013, the county has sought suitors who might bring a private firm into the old courthouse. Not a single business has jumped on the opportunity, a fact that speaks to how much society's needs have changed over the past century.

Not every old building is worth saving. Not every structure is a monument worthy of wads of public investment. 

There are reasons to question Braud's assertion that he and he alone wields unilateral authority over the courthouse's future. As chief judge, he does oversee the operations of the justice center. But Rock Island County holds the deed. 

But Braud's frustration is understandable. He's consistently been harangued and undermined as he rightly pushed for a new justice center. It took a court ruling in Braud's favor for the needed facilities to even move forward. The opposition has always, and continues to be, more about politics than policy.

Calls from a vocal minority should not dictate policy in Rock Island County. They should not foist another $20 million onto the tax rolls to preserve a building that, by every objective account, is outdated and unsafe. They should not mandate the old courthouse find new life as a museum, a costly proposal cooked up solely to find a use for the otherwise purposeless structure.

Braud might be wielding a heavy hand. But there can be no doubt that an unwillingness to govern among county board members is a motivating force.

The old Rock Island County Courthouse is a structure outside its time. The onus falls to Rock Island County Board to finally admit that fact, do right by the taxpayers and empower Braud to raze it. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.


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