Filthy water and inoperative fire alarms at the Kane County Judicial Center are part of up to $1.56 million in surprise mechanical repairs county board members learned about Tuesday night when they met as a committee of the whole. Even worse, county staff members said the repairs -- and a potentially life-threatening problem with fire alarms -- are the result of previous county leadership cutting corners in the construction of the building to save money.
Board members already must find more than $100 million to fund an expansion at the courthouse at Randall Road and Route 38. Population growth in the county necessitates a new parking garage and another wing at the courthouse.
The mechanical repairs detailed Tuesday are an issue the county board believed was fixed in 2012. That's when the county spent $510,000 to replace the controls for courthouse heating and cooling system. County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen said that money only fixed the "brains" of the system, but now the circulatory system -- the pipes -- must be addressed.
Operations Staff Executive Don Biggs said the pipes used for the building were too small, resulting in inevitable clogging issues.
"The hot water system is filthy," Biggs said.
An even more dire situation involves fire alarm boxes in the judicial center that would not trigger an actual alarm if someone pulled them.
Board member John Hoscheit called for expediting that repair, because the county would face serious legal repercussions if there was a fire at the judicial center and officials knew the alarms might fail.
Biggs said all the building's flaws are the result of county staff members never going over a punch list with contractors during construction. Biggs, who is a new staff member, said his understanding is that didn't occur because previous county leadership needed to cut costs to keep the project on budget.
Board members expressed disappointment but said mistakes in the past don't change the current repair needs. Lauzen agreed.
"It's going to be extremely expensive," Lauzen said. "But I think there are going to be a lot of lessons in this experience."
Board members may have to learn those lessons quickly. Lauzen said the county jail and juvenile justice center likely have the same mechanical issues and will be evaluated in the near future. In the meantime, the county's 2014 budget already has money in it to fund $678,000 of repairs for the judicial center mechanical system this year. The remaining repairs will carry over into 2015.
Biggs also requested an additional $60,000 to hire a maintenance mechanic. That total doesn't include the costs for the associated health insurance and pension benefits that would come with the position.