Originally Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013, 7:35 pm
Last Updated: Jan. 22, 2013, 10:46 am

Judge may seek OSHA inspection of Rock Island County courthouse

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Mizener
The 116-year-old Rock Island County Courthouse, shown in this file photo, is in bad shape and may not meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, says 14th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor.
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Photo: Todd Welvaert
Chief Judge Jeffrey W. O'Connor gestures during a meeting with the Quad-Cities media on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012.

Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor is considering asking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to inspect the Rock Island County Courthouse.

Judge O'Connor wants to win over the public to his view a new courthouse needs to be built ahead of a referendum in April that could create a way to fund the project.

He said the 116-year-old building is in bad shape, and bringing OSHA in to assess it could help the public understand the need for a new courthouse.

"You've got to be able to demonstrate that it's got to go before you start spending a lot of money," Judge O'Connor said. "I'll be a part of anything that will get that across."

The referendum in April willask voters if they support expanding the powers of the Rock Island County Public Building Commission, which was established to build the county jail.

The building commission could then borrow money to build a courthouse. The same mechanism was used to fund construction of the Rock Island County Justice Center.

In an interview on Monday with the editorial board of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, Judge O'Connor said the building cannot be heated properly, has mold problems and likely is not in compliance with fire safety and disabled access codes.

"The time has long come and gone to do something," he said.

If the referendum is approved, the Rock Island County Board would have to decide where a courthouse would be built, and study cost and space requirements.

The board also could decide to build a new county office building through the expanded powers of the building commission to replace the existing building across from the courthouse that houses various county offices.

Judge O'Connor said there was a possibility the courthouse could be closed down by OSHA or because of a structural or mechanical failure.

He said he understands a proposal to build a new courthouse for tens of millions of dollars will be met with skepticism by some, but he said he hopes a public awareness campaign can convince voters the need is real.

"Nobody's trying to hoodwink anybody and get a fancy building," he said.

The county board voted last week to put the referendum question about the authority of the building commission on the April 9 local election ballot.