Cook County Administrator talks security improvements and county building projects
Kirsten Wisniewski

Cook County Administrator talks security improvements and county building projects

The Cook County Board of Commissioners is investing in improved security. The commissioners heard a presentation on building safety from MIS Director Rowan Watkins during a closed-door portion of the Mar. 19 Committee of the Whole meeting. During their regular meeting on Mar. 26, the board approved a selection of security updates for several county buildings, adding to the list of county building improvement projects already part of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Security Improvements

Cook County Administrator James Joerke told WTIP that the safety of employees is important to the county. After the shooting at the courthouse in 2011, more robust security was put in place, however, those systems are aging and more prone to failure. Joerke said, “We want to make sure that we get in front of things and make sure that we have a system that is adaptable and reliable.” The updates will include replacement of the current camera, card access, and panic button systems.

Joerke explained that one of the most beneficial aspects of the new system is that it includes a service level agreement, which ensures timely response if the system is having problems. Joerke said that in the past, if repairs were needed in-person by a service provider, there were often major delays. The security updates that the board approved come with a price tag of $269,335.13, according to the presentation Watkins gave during the Mar. 26 meeting. The buildings getting security updates are the Cook County Courthouse, Highway Department Campus, Recycling Center, and Community Center.

CIP and other building project updates

The county is poised to take on a whole collection of building improvements, beyond the security system updates. Joerke said that the county is currently working with CR-BPS, the building firm that helped develop the CIP and evaluate deferred maintenance needs, to put together bid packages for some of the larger CIP projects. The county opted not to hire a construction manager after the first Request for Proposal (RFP) that was issued at the end of last year. In a previous interview with WTIP, Joerke said that while that RFP is being prepared for re-issue, it was important to push forward with some of the bigger projects.

During the Mar. 19 meeting, the commissioners heard from Patrick O’Connell, of the Laborers’ International Union of North America about Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), which ensure that the companies the county contracts with pay employees the market rate. Joerke said that the county already uses some PLAs in road maintenance, and that the benefits of a PLA go beyond knowing that workers are earning the prevailing wage.

In an environment like Cook County, where there is a shortage of workers and contractors, maintaining connections to unions can be helpful in recruiting labor for the county’s many projects, according to Joerke. He said, “It’s also a way for us to get access to contractors who may be interested in bidding on county projects. So by working through a project labor agreement, it allows us to cast a wider net when we’re seeking help on doing a capital project, whether that’s a road or a building.”

As capital improvements are planned here in Cook County, in St Paul, bills have been introduced by Senator Grant Hauschild and Representative Roger Skraba for Cook County to receive state bonding money to support the proposed justice center. While getting the entire $8.7 million is unlikely, Joerke said that the county has made it clear to both legislators that any amount of support would go a long way to address current building needs. In the meantime, BKV Group, the firm hired to draft  plans for the justice center, is scheduled to present the preliminary plans to the board at the next regular Board of Commissioners meeting on Apr. 9.

WTIP’s Kirsten Wisniewski spoke with Cook County Administrator James Joerke about the most recent county board meetings, the Committee of the Whole on Mar. 19 and the regular Board of Commissioners meeting on Mar. 26. Audio from that interview is below.