Using golden shovels, officials ceremonially broke ground on both sides of a construction fence Tuesday morning as excavators prepared the site for Will County’s new courthouse.
The group gathered on Ottawa Street in downtown Joliet to witness the launch of the county’s latest capital project — a $200 million, 365,000 square-foot, 10-story structure with 38 courtrooms. It will replace the current four-story courthouse with 23 courtrooms, that sits across the street.
“Those of us in the judiciary are very careful not to show too much emotion, but today I am one happy, excited, thrilled judge,” Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt said.
“This groundbreaking ceremony is just that — a ceremony — but it is important because it is symbolic of all the hard work accomplished by many individuals and groups, past, present and future that will ultimately result in a beautiful and functional building that will benefit the residents of this county for years and year to come,” he said, calling this event a “highlight” of his tenure as chief judge.
Speakers hailed the ceremony as an “historic event” and stressed the bipartisan leadership and cooperation at many levels of government from the state legislature, which approved a courthouse facility fee, to the city of Joliet, which agreed to contribute $10 million and waive $2.3 million in permit fees. The Will County board is overseeing the project without a tax increase.
The project began with the county’s purchase in 2014 of the former First Midwest Bank Building on the southwest corner of Ottawa and Jefferson. That building will be demolished in early 2018.
The courthouse is the second of three capital projects the county is building with a $275 million bond issue, and before it is completed in 2020, it will create 600 construction jobs, officials said.
The new Public Safety Complex, on U.S. 52 and Laraway Road in Joliet, was completed last month, and is the home of the sheriff’s department, the newly consolidated Laraway Communications Center and the offices of the Emergency Telephone System Board, which oversees the county’s 911 system.
“The Public Safety Complex was the appetizer and the courthouse is the main course,” said county board member Ray Tuminello, R-New Lenox, who chairs the board’s Capital Improvements Committee.
Will County Executive Larry Walsh called the new courthouse “another huge step forward in the building of our future.”
It was not a question of “if” but “how,” he said, noting that the county needed a facility that was “safe, efficient, and allowed for continued growth.”
“I really feel county board deserves a lot of credit — not just current board but all those who came before. They did a lot of the heavy lifting and never gave up,” said county board Speaker Jim Moustis, admitting he was “a little biased.”
Joliet Mayor Robert O’Dekirk called this an “outstanding example of different bodies of government working together for the common good.”
He said when he took over as mayor, he reached out to county officials, and met with Schoenstedt, Walsh, Moustis and city council members and “hammered out a deal,” to contribute $10 million over the next 20 years to keep the courthouse in downtown Joliet.
“This is a great day for the city of Joliet,” he said.
The courthouse was designed by architects Wight and Company, with Gilbane Building Company as construction manager, and the Farnsworth Group as commissioning agent.
The plan calls for a two-story lobby, with natural lighting, and six security screening stations with over 100 queuing spaces inside the building so people will not have to wait outside as they do now.
The lower floors will house the higher volume functions and be accessible by escalators, with elevators for the upper floors.
In addition to 10 floors of courtrooms, there will be a four-story section with offices for the state’s attorney, court clerk and a law library.