Lake County courthouse expansion moving ahead

  • Preliminary work for the Lake County Courts Expansion Project is expected to begin this fall.

    Preliminary work for the Lake County Courts Expansion Project is expected to begin this fall. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2012

Posted8/20/2014 5:30 AM

Preliminary work on a $94 million project designed to meet future needs of the Lake County court system is expected to begin this fall.

A new building adjoining existing facilities in downtown Waukegan will be one story shorter and $10.5 million over the original estimate. However, the way officially has been cleared for construction six years after the county and justice officials began studying the needs of the system.


"The public probably wasn't aware but our justice partners -- the county board and staff -- have been trying to solve the problem for a long time," said county board member Carol Calabresa, vice-chair of the board's law and judicial committee. "This is not a plan that was quickly devised."

The Lake County Board voted 20 to 1 last week to approve the additional $10.5 million for what is known as the Lake County Courts Expansion Project on the southwest corner of Washington and County streets. Plans call for an eight-story building with 15 courtrooms. One floor would be unfinished but available for three additional court rooms in the future.

The work also includes renovation of the Babcox Courts building with two unfinished floors and space for up to six additional courtrooms when needed, and a tunnel under Washington Street to transport prisoners.

"It's a huge step," Calabresa said. "It's a complicated project."

In casting the only vote against, county Board member Bonnie Thomson Carter said she supported the overall project but was not comfortable with some of the changes due to it coming in over budget.

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Utility work to prepare the area is expected to begin in September or October, with construction on the vacant county-owned property planned for January, said Amy McEwan, deputy county administrator.

Conceptual plans for a nine-floor building had an initial estimated cost of $83.5 million, but that changed once detailed architectural designs and construction cost were compiled.

"The project was $16 million more than we projected," McEwan said.

A three-month process to find cost reductions followed, she added. One recommendation was to eliminate a floor and leave one of the remaining eight floors of the main building unfinished.

Actual population figures were much lower than originally estimated, she said, leading to changes in the projected need.

"We also looked at 20 years of case filing data. There are fewer filings than originally projected," she said. The new facilities were expected to meet county courthouse needs until 2030 but that window has been extended to 2040, McEwan added.

County Administrator Barry Burton said at the meeting the project is within the existing budget and property taxes would not increase to pay for it.

The new court tower is expected to take three years to build and the Babcox work one year to complete. Plans then are to upgrade the main courthouse on the north side of Washington Street, which will be separate project.

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