A blow to Rock Island County’s plans to tear down the old courthouse now has the county plotting its next move.
A temporary legal order to stop demolition gives advocates of the old building hope and has county workers discussing options.
The temporary restraining order came from a federal judge Wednesday night.
It means contractors must stop all demolition work until a lawsuit against the county board and county public building commission comes to a resolution.
Although the cranes are on standby at the old county courthouse, Preservationists say the latest ruling is a sign of hope that the 122-year-old building might remain standing.
“The courthouse has been treated badly. It’s got a lot of potential reuse,” says Bill Handel, who has been advocating for the building to stay standing for almost a year and a half now.
“Do a top to bottom renovation of it so that it’ll be something that the county workers could work safely in and productively in and the people of Rock Island County can point with pride to,” says Handel.
The retired architect says he and other advocates were confident in their case after preservation groups hit the county with a more than 300-page lawsuit last month.
“We had really all the facts on our side,” Handel says.
The chair of the county’s public building commission says the decision to pause wasn’t surprising to him, either.
“Probably more expected than anything for a judge to give an honest thought and proper review,” says Brent Ganahl.
Commissioners met the next day to discuss options moving forward, like who would be responsible for landscaping if the judge rules against the demolition.
But in the end…
“We’re at that point where when the judge makes the ruling, that’s when it’ll be revisited,” Ganahl says.
It could take another month for a final ruling, but Ganahl says he wants to make sure all the legal hurdles are cleared before anything happens.
“I would like to see it completed correctly,” he says.
And, even after more than 14 months of debate, Handel hopes that this time a solution will stick.
“I hope that this little pause actually gives some opportunities for people to maybe get the thing rolling to keep that building and put it to a good use,” he says.
The federal judge who issued a temporary restraining order this week is expected to make a decision in two weeks of whether she will hear the case against demolition or throw the lawsuit out.
If she decides to hear the case, proceedings are set for April back in Rock Island County.
This debate over the old courthouse has been going on for about a year and a half now.
- It started in October 2017 when the chief judge of the Illinois 14th circuit and the public building commission chair sent a letter to the county board saying the old courthouse needs to be demolished.
- The Rock Island Preservation Society responded by reaching out to Landmarks Illinois for help in April of last year. The group added the courthouse to its list of most endangered historical sites of 2018.
- Landmarks Illinois and other groups filed a lawsuit against the county board and the building commission last month in a last-ditch effort to save the courthouse.