Rock Island County Board Votes To Demolish Courthouse

Jul 18, 2018

Rock Island County Courthouse
Credit Es-n-Len Photos / Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive

The Rock Island County Board has decided to demolish the county courthouse. The board voted 16-6 on Tuesday night to give the deed to the Public Building Commission. The commission is expected to use $1.6 million to tear down the courthouse and replace it with green space. The funds are part of the $28 million cost of building a new annex to the Justice Center.

More than 100 residents showed up at last night's meeting. County Board Chairman Ken Maranda allowed 11 people to address the board. Nine spoke against demolishing the courthouse. Two of them spoke in favor.

When it came time for the board to vote, members who are opposed to demolition pleaded with their colleagues to reconsider.

During one heated moment, Board Member Mike Steffen urged Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos to come to the mic. He wanted Bustos to defend his position that the courthouse is a security concern that cannot be rehabilitated through a public-private partnership.

Maranda told Steffen the time for public comment had passed, and that it was now time to vote. Then Steffen said Bustos was afraid to talk. Bustos stood up.

"Mr. Steffen, I can assure you I'm not afraid of anything," said Bustos. "Certainly not anything in this room. Months and months have passed. I've been available for comment throughout it, and I've given you the information. The decision is yours. It's not mine. Although I do take care of the courthouse, whether that court stands or goes is your decision, and I really don't know what else to add other than that." 

Those voting against demolition were Richard Morthland, Edna Sowards, Kimberly Callaway Thompson, Robert Westpfahl, Cecilia O'Brien, and Don Johnston. Ron Oelke and Patrick Moreno were absent.

The vote to tear down the Rock Island County courthouse follows years of discussion and delays concerning the future of the building, which was constructed in 1896.

Supporters of demolition argue that maintaining the courthouse would place a huge burden on taxpayers because it's been neglected for decades. Opponents of demolition say it's a rich part of county history and want it to be preserved.

After the new Justice Center Annex opens, the county recorder and court services are expected to be the only offices remaining in the courthouse. Under the agreement approved last night, part of the $1.6 million will be used to find them new locations.