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Daily Journal
     May 19, 2021      #46-139 KDJ
 
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Kankakee County Courthouse

Daily Journal/File

Courthouse lacks function, expert reports 

By Chris Breach
cbreach@daily-journal.com


KANKAKEE — Kankakee County’s government buildings rate in the “fair” category which should come as no surprise to county officials nor its residents.

It should also come as no surprise that the historic Kankakee County Courthouse, while a beautiful building, does not meet the needs for today’s courthouse functions.

Jason Dwyer, president of design and construction for Wight & Company in Darien, presented a space needs assessment report to the Kankakee County Board. The entire assessment consists of 146 pages, and Dwyer gave an overview of that report this past week.

The space assessment looked at the county administration building, the courthouse, the courthouse annex building and the highway department building.

Dwyer said the next step is to look at different scenarios and what’s the funding potential. He said the courts have the highest need. The county board will be meeting with Wight & Company again to discuss the next step.

Dwyer noted the county does a good job of making use of the spaces it has.

“This happens in a lot of counties that you get situations where the buildings either were not purpose built for the functions that are going on in the building,” he said. “Or in the case of your old historic courthouse, it’s just a different era. It’s not built for modern court operation.”

Dwyer said some of the issues are related to the mechanical systems.

“We found in a number of the facilities that probably could benefit from some air quality improvement measures,” he said. “That’s certainly been a hot topic these days with COVID, just analyzing different situations with indoor air quality.”

ADMINISTRATIVE BUILDING

The assessment for the county’s five-story administration building at the corner of East Court Street and North Schuyler Avenue was that it’s in fair condition. The structure’s mechanical system are another matter, however.

Those system, Dwyer said, are very old and need attention.

The building’s roof has been recently replaced, and an elevator modernization is planned.

A drawback for the administration building is that its floor plate size and shape presents challenges for efficient layouts. The county would benefit from having a new administration building and would actually need less space, based on the report.

The administrative building was the former home of the City National Bank.

“If we look at all the spaces in a building that is purpose built for the function, you actually can gain more efficiency,” Dwyer said.

KANKAKEE COUNTY COURTHOUSE

The overall assessment of the courthouse was fair. The mechanicals are in reasonable shape, and the roof has been recently replaced. However, the news was far from being positive. He noted there are air quality issues, and the elevator needs to be addressed. The ADA accessibility issues are being addressed.

“It’s a beautiful, historic courthouse, but it doesn’t have a lot of the modern functions you have in a traditional modern courthouse,” Dwyer said of the building which opened in 1912. “Some of the detention components and security components that you’d have in a modern courthouse or even things like the size of the actual courtrooms themselves to accommodate litigants in the well, spectators, even at the bench itself are all smaller than what we would see in kind of modern court standards.”

Dwyer said that doesn’t mean you have to go out and build a new courthouse tomorrow, but there is a deficiency in space standards based on modern courthouse operations. He said that some “right sizing” could be done.

“We see that oftentimes, counties will look at things like moving a traffic court or something that tends to have a higher volume operation out of a courthouse, putting it into a new space that has ample space for that kind of function,” he said. “Parking usually comes into play there, too because you have a lot of people come into court.”

HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT

The highway department building was also rated fair. The vehicle-maintenance areas are in good condition and should continue to expand and reconfigure. The court annex was rated in good condition, but the split level entry creates a space challenge for security screening.

Board chairman Andy Wheeler said the space issues aren’t anything new.

“In case everybody’s wondering, we’re not talking about $190 million courthouse,” Wheeler said. “We’ve seen that movie here. That’s not what we’re talking about at all. We’re talking about functionality, so I just want to make sure that was clear. And there’s no supposition that we’re going down that road again.”

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Blue tape marks the floors of the Kankakee County Courthouse every 6 feet to enforce social distancing guidelines ahead of reopening May 27. The normally bustling halls of downtown government were barren except for dozens of X’s six feet apart.

Daily Journal/Tiffany Blanchette

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