Tragic accident comes at a precarious time for old courthouse building

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A Rock Island County Board member says he doesn’t want Tuesday’s freak accident to scare people into demolishing the historic courthouse. 

Drue Mielke says while he and many others are mourning the victims, he hopes they don’t place blame on the building. 

“I think people confuse the issue with taking the courthouse down and a tree that happens to be on the land where the courthouse is, they’re two different issues,” says Mielke.

Mielke’s comments come amid a months-long debate over what to do with the building that was built more than 120 years ago. 

They also come at a precarious time for the courthouse. 

The county board is expected to vote on whether or not to demolish the building in less than two weeks.

This controversy has been going on for nearly nine months. 

Local 4 News has sorted through the timeline to give you a better look at what’s at stake when it comes to this century-old building.

“My letter is going to make them decide, because they need to get to it,” said Illinois 14th Circuit Chief Judge Walter Braud in October of 2017. 

That’s when he and the county’s public building commission chairman sent a letter to the Rock Island County Board saying the old courthouse needs to be demolished. 

They say the building is just too old. 

“The asbestos infestation, water contamination, all of the electric systems are ancient, and can’t be renewed. You’d have to gut this building down to its walls,” Braud told Local 4 News. 

But others say the building is part of the county’s identity.

The Rock Island Preservation Society advocates renovating and reusing the building. 

“In addition to it being a beautiful building, I think it embodies the history of our county, what we stand for, how long we’ve been here,” RIPS member Linda Anderson told Local 4 News in April. 

That’s when the society reached out to Landmarks Illinois for help and the group added the courthouse to their list of “Most endangered historical sites” of 2018. 

But even county board members have been split. 

Kai Swanson says the costs of renovating are up to $20 million and that’s too much for the cash-strapped county. 

“The county in and of itself has no resources to do anything positive, negative or in between; We have no money,” Swanson told Local 4 News in December of 2017. 

Demolition estimates are at about $1.5 million, but the county’s public building commission has pledge to pay for that. 

Mielke, another county board member, has voiced his support for saving the courthouse building. 

In December, board members ended up requesting more time to consider their options. 

The demolition debate is now set to come to an end with a vote on July 17th. 

The Rock Island preservation society is holding a rally on Sunday to save the courthouse building. 

You can find more information on that by clicking here

The new justice center is expected to be finished in November. 

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