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updated: 7/9/2014 5:37 AM

Price tag for new Lake County court building more than expected

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Lake County Board members will decide in coming weeks how to address a new, higher price tag on a planned project featuring construction of a nine-story court building in downtown Waukegan.

The Lake County Board Law and Judicial committee learned Tuesday that construction on a court tower and renovation of current county facilities will cost about $12 million more than architects originally estimated.

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Lake County Deputy Administrator Amy McEwan said updated estimates show the tower on the south side of Washington Street in Waukegan, and renovations at the Depke Juvenile Justice Center near Vernon Hills and the main courthouse at 18 N. County St. in Waukegan, will cost about $95.5 million. Initially, architects estimated the project would cost about $83.5 million.

County board officials are waiting for a recommendation from administrators on how to best close that gap. Among the options being reviewed are removing amenities from the court tower, such as some escalators or elevators, eliminating the top floor of the facility, or leaving a floor incomplete but ready for future renovation.

The recommendation could also include delaying the $14.5 million Depke Center renovation, or even spending the $12 million more to cover the project's higher cost.

"We are not bringing a recommendation at this point," McEwan told board members at the committee meeting. "This is just options available to close the gap. Something for you to think about."

McEwan said an official recommendation will be made at the next judicial meeting Aug. 5.

County officials approved the new court tower and renovations to existing buildings in November. Construction on the new facility was expected to begin in September, McEwan said, but has been delayed due to revamped architecture drawings.

When completed, the new facility is expected to meet the county's courthouse needs until 2030, officials said.

Although sizable, a construction loan needed to fund the project is not expected to affect property-tax bills, McEwan said. She said money will be set aside from the county's annual operating budget to cover any loans.

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 has not expanded, forcing some judges to share space.

Additionally, some non-court space in the county building has been renovated or used for temporary court needs.

At least one county board member in the committee hearing said he would not have supported the project had the price tag been so steep.

"I want to know why this happened and assurances it won't happen again," said Steve Carlson, a Republican from Gurnee.

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