Update on the Fate of the Old Rock Island County Courthouse

The former Rock Island County courthouse
Weeds growing on the grounds of the former Rock Island County courthouse

Weeds have been growing around the old and empty courthouse in Rock Island.

That’s apparently all that’s happened since mid-July, when a Illinois’ Third District Appellate Court ruled the county can’t demolish the 123-year-old building without complying with the Illinois State Historic Resources Preservation Act.

Michelle O’Neill reports according to state law, the county board must consult with the Illinois DNR.

Thomas Quinn, an associate lawyer at Jenner & Block LLP, Chicago, IL

Attorney Thomas Quinn argued the case for the plaintiffs, a group of preservationists and residents who sued to stop the Rock Island County Board and its Public Building Commission from tearing down the historic courthouse.

He’s an associate at Jenner and Block in Chicago and took the case pro bono.

Third District Appellate Court Justice William Holdridge wrote the opinion (below), at times using pointed language.

For example, first the Public Building Commission, or PBC, asked the Illinois DNR for input about the historic preservation act, but then ignored it, in clear violation of the law.

Quinn also says the justice wrote that if appealed, the appellate court would have reversed a 2015 judgment by Henry County Judge Dana McReynolds.

Judge Dana McReynolds (file)

It was a test of whether the county could legally build an annex to the Criminal Justice Center.

In Justice Holdridge’s words the circuit’s court’s expansion of the PBC’s purpose was “particularly inappropriate” because the board had already acknowledged that the PBC lacked the authority to build a new courthouse, and because voters overwhelmingly rejected the expansion of the PBC’s purpose.

But the decision was never challenged. 

Quinn says now Rock Island County must comply with the preservation act and complete a consultation process with the state DNR and EPA.

The agencies have proposed that the county put out a request for proposals (RFP) to find out if there’s interest in another use or purpose for the former courthouse. And if that fails, the state agencies may consider other proposals from the county. Richard Brunk, Rock Island County Board Chair (file)CREDIT SUBMITTED / RICHARD BRUNK

Richard Brunk, Rock Island County Board Chair (file)

Richard Brunk, Chair of the Rock Island County Board, says the county respects the appellate court’s opinion, which he calls a split decision.

He say the county is committed to demolishing the building to preserve the property for future use and consolidation of facilities.

Brunk says private ownership would be a hurdle to eventually realizing cost savings and efficiencies for taxpayers. 

So far, the Illinois DNR has not responded to questions about the status of the mandatory consultation process. Read the opinion below.