What’s left for advocates for old Will County Courthouse?

Last-ditch efforts to save courthouse continue as demolition plans are made

will county courthouse, government

The Joliet vote turning down local landmark status for the old Will County Courthouse last week may not have been the last gasp for preservationists but there appears to be little breathing room left.

Preservationists said they would turn back to the Will County Board where Chairwoman Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, appears to be willing to offer a glint of hope for their cause.

Ogalla confirmed Friday that she would give preservationists a chance in October to make a case for keeping the courthouse standing as the county launches a review of its existing properties and future needs.

“I have had several board members ask me about this. I said I would consider it,” Ogalla said.

Will County board member Judie Ogalla speaks at the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

The plan is for the county board Executive Committee in October to consider a proposal for creation of an ad hoc committee that would examine whether the courthouse could be updated for future county uses.

The formation of such a committee, if approved by the full county board, could come with a provision to forestall demolition until the committee’s work is done.

But it would have to first get through an executive committee that on Sept. 7 voted 7-4 against a proposed resolution to conduct a study on the economic feasibility of redeveloping the old courthouse. Ogalla was among those voting no.

“I think the vote’s going to go much like it went the other day,” Ogalla said. “I don’t see how it’s going to change.”

In the meantime, Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant is trying to line up a contractor and permits to start demolition before the end of the year.

“We are running out of time,” said County Board Member Dan Butler, R-Frankfort, one of several board members who supports keeping the courthouse.

Getting Ogalla on their side would make a big difference, Butler said.

“She has the ability to appoint that committee, and that would prevent the executive from proceeding with the demolition,” he said.

Will County board member Daniel Butler speaks at a special meeting on the future of the old Will County Courthouse at the Will County board on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

The proposed ad hoc committee, if it gets through the Executive Committee, likely would go to the full county board for a vote on Oct. 19.

Even without the ad hoc committee, preservationist advocates have some options, Butler said, although he is keeping them close to his vest.

Meanwhile, the county executive office is reviewing nine bids for demolition and “is very close to a final decision,” office spokesman Michael Theodore said Friday.

Theodore said it has not been decided whether a demolition contract would be brought to the county board for a vote, or if it would be awarded based on a 2019 county board vote for demolition and an appropriation of $2.5 million in the current budget to pay for it.

Whether legislative maneuvering can get in the way of the wrecking ball could be a matter of time.

“It’s a race right now,” Butler said.