Lake County officials celebrate Waukegan courthouse expansion project

Lake County politicians, judges, prosecutors and police leaders gathered outside the court complex in downtown Waukegan on Friday to celebrate the recent launch of a $110 million expansion project.

Plans call for an eight-story building with at least 15 courtrooms near the existing complex at County and Washington streets. It should be completed in 2017.

Work on a prisoner-transfer tunnel beneath Washington Street that will connect the courthouse to the nearby county jail already has begun. That should be ready next fall.

The last major courthouse expansion occurred 50 years ago, Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor told the crowd during the ceremony.

Many courtrooms don't meet state building standards, and courtroom space is limited.

"This results in a delay in the justice process and added expense while county inmates wait in jail as cases move slowly through the system," Lawlor said.

The construction project also calls for the renovation of some of the jail building, including the courtrooms and kitchen.

The renovation of the main building is planned, too, but that will be a separate project.

Lake County Board member Mary Ross Cunningham, a Waukegan Democrat whose district includes the courthouse, agreed the expansion is needed.

"I know the taxpayers are very happy to see where their dollars are going," she said. "This is a good project."

County board member Audrey Nixon, a North Chicago Democrat who's also the longtime leader of the panel's law and judicial committee, praised the project and the jobs it will bring to the city and region.

During the ceremony, Lawlor and Chief Judge John Phillips unveiled a justice-themed sculpture created by local artist Eric Marston that will stand outside the courthouse.

Called "Justice Tower," the piece consists of wood salvaged from across the county. It's topped with a set of scales and features words such as "equality" and "hope" that are designed to represent the judicial system.

The Lake County courthouse expansion project calls for a new tower with 15 new courtrooms, among other features. Courtesy of Lake County
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