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posted: 11/10/2012 8:00 AM

Lake County considering $90 million loan to expand court facilities

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  • Lake County Board member Brent Paxton

    Lake County Board member Brent Paxton


Lake County officials are considering borrowing up to $90 million to expand the main courthouse in downtown Waukegan and other facilities.

A new nine-story tower on the south side of Washington Street near County Street, between the courthouse and the county jail, could be the centerpiece of the project, Assistant County Administrator Amy McEwan said.

Parts of the jail building would be renovated, too, and the juvenile justice center near Vernon Hills would be expanded as well.

"It would absolutely improve efficiency and functionality," said Brent Paxton, a Zion Republican who leads the county board's financial committee.

County coffers are flush enough to get the project started, officials said. The loan would provide cash that would reimburse the county for the early expenditures and help pay for the rest of the work, documents indicate.

Although sizable, the loan will not affect property-tax bills, McEwan said. County officials will set aside $5 million annually for the next 30 years to repay the loan, she said.

A committee consisting of key county board members and law-enforcement representatives, including Chief Judge Fred Foreman and Sheriff Mark Curran, has been studying ways to improve court operations.

Business in the Lake County judicial system has been growing for years, prompting the construction of branch courthouses in Mundelein, Round Lake Beach and Park City in the past eight years.

As new judges have taken the bench, the main courthouse at 18 N. County St. has not expanded, forcing some judges to share space.

Additionally, some non-court space in the building -- including the county board meeting rooms on the 10th floor -- occasionally is used for court activities.

The effort would meet the court's needs for the next few decades, not just the current demands, Paxton said.

"We're looking way into the future," he said.

The project wouldn't be limited to court facilities. A planned renovation of the administrative tower at the county building would continue, too, McEwan said.

The improvements haven't been designed yet. Once that happens, the first element to be built likely will be a tunnel beneath Washington Street that will connect the jail and the courthouse, she said.

The tunnel will be used for prisoner transport. It could be built in late 2013 or early 2014, McEwan said.

The county board's law and judicial committee will discuss the proposal when it meets Tuesday. That meeting will begin at 11 a.m. at the county government building.

The finance committee will review the plans at 1 p.m. Wednesday.

The full board could vote on the plan Nov. 20.

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