Will County Board members question use of former Joliet hospital building

Officials outlined $6.1 million cost to renovate building to house two agencies

Will County, Joliet, government

Some Will County Board members raised questions about the use of a former Silver Cross Hospital building the county purchased in Joliet.

The county finalized the purchase of the property at 1300 Copperfield Ave. at the former Silver Cross Hospital site on the east side of Joliet, for about $500,000.

During a discussion about the property at a Capital Improvements meeting on Tuesday, members said they were surprised to learn the building would not be used to store election equipment from the county clerk’s office as originally planned.

Officials said there are still plans to house the Veterans Assistance Commission and the Children’s Advocacy Center in the building.

Board members said they were under the impression part of the reason for purchasing the property was to store the election equipment. Since then, officials proposed using other spaces to store the equipment, including the existing advocacy center’s office across the street from the county office building in downtown Joliet.

Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry said during Tuesday’s meeting the former Silver Cross building was, at first, her only option for additional storage space. But later the Children’s Advocacy Center decided to move into the former hospital building. Staley Ferry said using the advocacy center’s space closer to her office “made much more sense.”

“What we were initially hoping to accomplish is keep all the election equipment with us here in one place,” Staley Ferry said.

Still, Staley Ferry said the discussions about where to ultimately store her equipment are ongoing and “nothing has been finalized.”

Member Julie Berkowicz, R-Naperville, asked to know “when and why” the decision was made to change the plans for the old Silver Cross property. Jackie Traynere, D-Bolingbrook, said members were frustrated the committee was not notified there was a change in plans for the building.

“Obviously, things change,” Traynere said.

Dave Tkac, the deputy chief of staff to county executive, said the 72,000-square foot building was built in 2002. Even after sitting vacant for about a decade, Tkac said it is in “remarkably great shape.”

When asked how much the county has already spent to renovate it, Tkac said it was less than $75,000.

Tkac also presented a proposal to spend a little over $6 million to complete the renovations to the building. Part of the money, about $1.3 million, would go to ensuring the building would survive the winter without any damage.

“We’ve got to be able to protect that investment,” Tkac said.

Minority Leader Mike Fricilone, R-Homer Glen, said he was not in favor of approving the money to fix the building even the for winter months.

“I certainly don’t want to spend another $1.3 million if we’re not sure we’re going to continue to move forward,” Fricilone said, adding he was in favor of selling the building if it wasn’t going to be used for its original intent.

County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, acknowledged that discussions with other officials led to a change of plans for the property.

“I understand completely it may have not been the conversation you had when you first started the conversation,” she said. “We are trying to present to you a full picture of what is going to happen in regards to repairs .... (and) space needs.”

She said even if the county were to sell the building, it would be worth preparing it for the winter so it won’t decrease in value.

The committee did not take a vote Tuesday to approve any expenses related to the building.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.