ROCK ISLAND — Residents opposed to demolishing the historic Rock Island County Courthouse are still making their voices heard at county meetings.
Several spoke during a meeting Monday of the governance, health and administration committee of the Rock Island County Board. They asked that a protective tarp be placed on the courthouse roof to protect it from further damage by the elements.
"There is a hole in the roof, and it doesn't take a lot of money to put a tarp over it and prevent it from getting further deteriorated," Rock Island resident Vince Thomas said. "Since there is a court case, we don't know which way that might go. If I had a shed in my backyard and it had a hole in the roof and I was trying to decide whether to tear it down or replace it, I would try to protect it to keep it from getting worse.
"My concern is why our tax dollars are not being used wisely to preserve what we have, even if it's temporary," Thomas said.
A lawsuit has been filed to halt the proposed demolition of the courthouse, and a temporary restraining order prohibiting demolition remains in effect while the case awaits an appeal hearing.
Former Quad-Cities resident Randy Brockway said he drove several hours from Riverside, Ill., to attend Monday's meeting.
"When I heard last August there was a vote to demolish the courthouse, I was stunned," Brockway said. "It spurred me to get interested and act. I've been very active in sending you emails and talking to many of you. I'm asking you, within a week, to get a tarp on the courthouse roof. These are unprecedented rains we've had. We need to stop that (water) damage."
SUPPORTERS WANT 'TO HAVE A DIALOGUE'
Local developer Joe Lemon asked committee members to hold a study session on the courthouse.
"We feel like we are being denied an opportunity to have a dialogue about it," Lemon said. "People on your own board tell us they don't understand everything. Who owns the courthouse? Who has the responsibility to fix the roof? Who is authorized to convey the courthouse to another entity or developer? Your own sitting board members tell us that."
Rock Island County Public Building Commission members awarded a contract to Advanced Environmental Testing and Abatement of Waterloo, Iowa, in November for $153,500 to remove asbestos from the courthouse.
The roof of the building was heavily damaged during asbestos abatement work in January and February, leaving several holes, according to an evaluation of the building done in March by Sarah Van Domelen, a structural engineer with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. of Chicago.
Van Domelen inspected the structure on behalf of Landmarks Illinois, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to saving historic places. She found extensive damage caused by asbestos abatement, and she recommended the roof be protected immediately.
During the April 10 meeting of the county board's committee of the whole, Rock Island County Administrator Jim Snider confirmed damage was being caused by rain.
COURTHOUSE REMAINS IN LIMBO
The fate of the courthouse, built between 1895 and 1897, remains in limbo. A lawsuit filed by Landmarks Illinois and five other plaintiffs against the county and the Public Building Commission to stop demolition was dismissed by Peoria County Circuit Judge Jodi Hoos March 19.
An appeal was filed by the plaintiffs and bond of $336,000 was posted by Landmarks Illinois. A temporary restraining order remains in effect while the case awaits an appeal hearing in the Third District Appellate Court.
Kaitlyn McAvoy, Landmarks Illinois communications manager, said Monday the temporary restraining order prevents "the defendants, their agents and their contractors from carrying out any demolition activities.
"Although the order does not explicitly reference preventative measures to avoid water damage from demolition activities that occurred in advance of the TRO, Landmarks Illinois would like to see the county take steps to prevent the historic building from falling into further disrepair," McAvoy said.
"We also note that the county represented it would take such steps when it sought a significant bond from Landmarks Illinois in the Appellate Court."
McAvoy said Landmarks Illinois and the other plaintiffs filed their opening brief in the Appellate Court June 28. She said the defendants' responses are due Aug. 2, and the plaintiffs’ reply briefs are due Aug. 16. The appellate court has not yet scheduled a date for oral arguments.
McAvoy added that the Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed a motion June 28 for leave to file an amicus brief on behalf of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources "in support of Landmarks Illinois position in the lawsuit with regard to the Preservation Act."
McAvoy said the appellate court allowed the brief on Monday, "which means it will consider the state's position that the proposed demolition project must comply with the Preservation Act."
Landmarks Illinois offered to settle the suit in May if the county and PBC agreed to solicit requests for proposals from private developers to buy and renovate the courthouse. County officials and commissioners never acknowledged the offer.
"Although we still have not received a response to our April settlement proposal, we are continuing to explore ways to reach out and have a discussion with the county," McAvoy said.
Brockway encouraged committee members to review the settlement offer.
"Have a closed session, and you can have your attorney here," Brockway said. "I've heard many of you do not fully understand the settlement offer. I sent it to many of you again last week and am asking you to read it. It's just two and a half pages. It makes sense. There are going to be three (appellate) judges ruling on this in Ottawa. They're going to say, 'Why is the county not even discussing it?'
"Please don't tear down this beautiful landmark building," Brockway said.