A long-proposed expansion of Lake County's juvenile courthouse near Vernon Hills finally is moving forward.
A $10.5 million addition to the north side of the Robert W. Depke Juvenile Justice Complex, which is on Milwaukee Avenue south of Route 60, is the centerpiece of the project's proposed first phase.
The two-story, 35,500-square-foot structure will house new courtrooms and hearing rooms, as well as more workspace for the state's attorney's office, the circuit court clerk, the public defender and the probation department.
Advocates say the addition is overdue. An expansion of the 16-year-old complex first was recommended in 2002.
"The current facility operates beyond capacity in virtually all areas," County Administrator Barry Burton said.
The county board will decide Tuesday whether to hire DLR Group of Illinois, a Chicago firm, to handle architectural and engineering work for the first phase of the project.
Committees greenlit the $1 million contract last week.
If the board approves the deal, the design work could be complete by the end of this year, officials said.
People don't think about the juvenile justice system every day, county Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor said, but the project is important.
"This project is essential to ensuring we serve youth who need to be rehabilitated in an efficient and cost-effective manner," said Lawlor, a Vernon Hills Republican. "And it's not just about locking them up. It's about education and life skills that help them turn their lives around."
The Depke complex opened in 1997 on land that formerly had been used for a nursing home. It's named after a former county board chairman from Gurnee.
The facility replaced the Hulse Detention Center in Waukegan, which honored former juvenile court Judge Minard E. Hulse. Part of the current complex formally is called the Hulse Juvenile Detention Center.
The center handled more than 1,000 cases in 2012, the most recent year data was available.
The detention center has room for 48 youths, although the average daily population generally is in the mid-30s, county Finance Director Gary Gordon said.
Detainees generally are between 10 and 17 years old. Boys make up 60 percent of the detainee population, Gordon said.
About 140 people work at the complex, representing a variety of county offices. As the staff has grown, so has the need for space, officials said.
"Additional space is needed for all agencies," Burton said.
A 2002 master plan for the complex called for a $15 million expansion of the facility. A new courtroom, more beds for inmates and additional space for treatment programs were proposed.
The project never was undertaken, however. Instead, smaller changes were made, such as parking and drainage improvements, Gordon said.
In 2012, a judicial facilities review committee recommended expansion. The county board agreed that November and set aside funding for the project.
"This is part of the larger funding plan for the new court building in Waukegan," Gordon said. "This particular project will be funded with saved cash."
In addition to the proposed courtroom and office space that would be built, new public waiting areas are planned, Burton said.
More space for parking also is in the works, as is a new maintenance garage.
The project will not affect the secure detention area at the complex, Gordon said.
Construction could begin in spring 2015 and finish the following year.
When that's done, officials will consider a second phase for the project. That could see existing courtrooms and office areas remodeled, Burton said.
But earnest planning for that work hasn't begun, he said, nor has a funding source been determined.