Old Courthouse in Woodstock sees work, demolition begin: ‘It’s looking more and more like a construction site every day’

Timeline is in flux but goal is to have work completed by April 2023

Workers from Bulley & Andrews, a Chicago-based contractor, work on removing trim work in the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House in Woodstock on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, as the renovation of the building continues.

Demolition and construction work has started on the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House in Woodstock, as walls are being opened up and plans are underway for one section of the building to be taken down soon.

In the coming weeks, residents can expect to see workers, demolition and fencing going up around the perimeter of the building. One of the front corners of the building, in particular, is expected to be demolished as soon as next week.

The section was added in the 1960s and is “incongruent” with the rest of the courthouse, City Planner Darrell Moore said.

“Things are in the messy period,” Moore said. “It’s looking more and more like a construction site every day.”

The final timeline of the project is still in flux, but the aim is to have the renovation complete by April 2023, Moore said.

The $13.25 million renovation of the old courthouse and jail, which officials hope will bring in tenants from the private sector, has increased in both price and scope since it was proposed back in 2020. Originally pitched at $8.4 million, the price has gone up primarily because of rising costs of labor, building materials and equipment tied to inflation, officials said.

Combined with previous work the city did on the building dating back to when it first took ownership more than a decade ago, the renovations will bring the total amount of money put into the property to about $17 million, said Paul Christensen, finance director and deputy city manager.

Two more bid packages for the project were approved at the start of February, with one more bid package expected in mid-March. Those packages are included in the total price tag, Christensen said.

The first package approved Feb. 1, totaling $99,275, will handle environmental remediation, according to city documents. The second package is estimated at north of $2.6 million for demolition and foundation work. The third, Moore said, will include the rest of the work needed on the project. Christensen said as of Tuesday, a final number was not yet available for that package.

The bid packages are being considered in the order of the work needed to be done on the building, Moore said. Both the total amount for the project, and the bid packages, come from Chicago-based contractor Bulley and Andrews, Christensen said.

One line item that got much attention at the Woodstock City Council’s Feb. 1 meeting was for a series of glass walls to be installed to allow more natural lighting in, officials said. In the original plans for the renovation, a solid wall would separate the south and north lobbies from one of the building’s stairwells.

The new plans, which were approved in February, will see both sides of the wall on all three floors replaced with glass. The total cost will run at $105,000. Originally, discussion centered around whether both sides, or just the southern walls, should be replaced.

While some on staff and on the council said they were indifferent to windows on the northern end, council member Lisa Lohmeyer said she thought both should be, saying it would be “visually appealing.” Mayor Mike Turner said those windows should be there for “100 years.”

“I think natural light is underrated,” Lohmeyer said. “I think it’ll just make the whole place light up.”

Even with the climbing cost, Christensen at the city’s Feb. 1 meeting said the project is “on budget,” minus some shoring work needed for the building’s elevator pit. He estimates it will cost about $70,000.

Woodstock City Planner Darrell Moore is reflected in old windows as workers from Bulley & Andrews, a Chicago-based contractor, work on the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House in Woodstock on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

“There’s not really a choice in that matter,” Christensen said at the meeting. “That’s where we’re off-budget a little bit.”

The finish on the elevator also was discussed at the Feb. 1 meeting, and officials opted to go with a stainless steel color as opposed to gold, and install a wrap to have it match other fixtures. The change will save the city a little less than $32,000, Christensen said.

The project will be paid for through state and federal historic tax credits, covering about $4.5 million, Christensen said in an interview. Another revenue source was cash from the city, covering about $750,000.

Most of the remainder is coming from a bond, which will be paid off over time using tax increment financing, or TIF, district funds and profits made from rent through tenants.

A TIF is a financing tool that temporarily diverts newly created property tax revenue in an area to a separate fund that can be used for improvements in the district or economic incentive agreements with developers. The city established a TIF district in the area in 2019 to help fund construction in the city’s downtown area and along Route 47.

Potential tenants include a microbrewery, restaurant Public House, Ethereal Confections, the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a new arts center, Moore said.

A silent auction also is set for Saturday, hosted by the nonprofit “Friends of the Old Courthouse.” The organization will sell off some older items from the building, including original doors, windows and furniture that officials said they couldn’t find a place for in the renovation. The funds will go to help the project, Moore said.