DuPage County using COVID-19 relief funds to help judicial complex expand

DuPage County will spend $5.4 million in federal pandemic relief funding to help pay for the planned expansion of the judicial center in Wheaton.

County board members this week approved the infusion of funding, covering about a quarter of the expected cost of a nearly $20 million, multiyear project.

Judges and attorneys say office space has become a hot commodity at the county's courthouse complex. COVID-19 mitigations, a steady rise in felony cases and statewide criminal justice reforms have fueled a need for more staffing and more room.

The proposed project calls for building an addition on the second-floor roof of a judicial office facility. The third floor would be built out toward the east to house the county's public defender's office. There would still be an area to the west available for any future expansion.

"It solves today's space needs, and it provides some latitude and flexibility for the future," County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.

The overall cost includes $2.6 million to reconfigure space in two other judicial buildings.

Officials want to add courtrooms - one in the domestic relations division and another in response to criminal justice legislation.

Backed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, the law eliminates cash bail beginning in 2023 and replaces it with a risk-based system for determining if people should stay in custody or go free while awaiting trial. DuPage officials say the anticipated length, complexity and volume of pretrial detention hearings require a judge and courtroom dedicated to those proceedings.

The legislation also mandates that all Illinois police officers wear body cameras by 2025.

DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin and Public Defender Jeff York say their offices will need to hire additional employees to manage and review body camera footage.

York's office is now dealing with cramped quarters on the first floor of the judicial building targeted for expansion.

"For several years as our case numbers have grown, we've been able to manage and we took some small measures to alleviate these pressure points," York told county board members last month. "However, two years ago, no one would have predicted COVID and the impact it would have on our judicial system."

The county's financial planners say $5.4 million in improvements qualify for COVID-19 relief money.

"There's a portion of it that's related to social distancing, separation of clientele," Chief Financial Officer Jeff Martynowicz said.

So far, the county has received $89.6 million in American Rescue Plan funds, the first of two equal installments. To date, the county has allocated about $138.7 million and spent about $29.8 million, said county board member Liz Chaplin, chair of the finance committee.

"That includes responding to the public health emergency, countywide water and sewer infrastructure projects, campus COVID mitigation, economic stimulus and community assistance," she said.

County board members have not yet decided how to pay for the rest of the project. At upcoming meetings, the board will consider individual project contracts as funds are expended.

  The third floor of the 503 building on the DuPage County government campus would be built out to the east under an expansion plan. Brian Hill/
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