County Board pursuing new plan to address safety and space needs
Chuck Olsen

County Board pursuing new plan to address safety and space needs

After several months of considering their options for meeting space and safety needs, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted on Jun. 25 to begin a master planning process that would include both the existing Cook County Courthouse and the Community Center, and to move forward with improvements to the Law Enforcement Center (LEC).

When the board approved the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) last year, it included a justice center complex. The proposed justice center would have involved a significant renovation of the current LEC, and the construction of a new wing to house the county’s judicial functions. The aim of the plan was to improve security in the court and law enforcement spaces, as well as increasing available office space for other county departments. In April the board opted to pause the planning process for the complex, just weeks after approving a master plan for the building. The plans had come with a significantly higher cost estimate than originally anticipated, and the commissioners decided that pursuing the plan would not be possible.

Since changing course, the board has spent the past few months considering how to move forward with addressing the safety and space issues that were identified in the CIP. At the Jun. 25 meeting, they took action to officially pursue a plan with several components. Cook County Administrator James Joerke told WTIP about the options. One element of the plan is to make renovations and an addition to the LEC, without the inclusion of the judicial offices that were part of the justice center plan. This would include changes like increasing the size of the sallyport to accommodate an ambulance during medical transports, improving the evidence storage area, and adding an Emergency Operations Center.

A second element that the board is pursuing is to make renovations to both the courthouse and community center, to better meet space needs. Joerke said that the 30-year old community center is in need of maintenance work already, and since it is a heavily used building, the county is interested in improving the space overall.

At the meeting on Jun. 25, the board voted to request an architectural plan for the LEC improvements from BKV Group, the firm originally hired to draft a master plan for the judicial center. The board also opted to solicit master planning services from BKV Group for the courthouse and community center projects. Joerke said that the county was not planning to open a new round of Requests for Proposals (RFPs), because BKV Group was already vetted during the previous RFP process, and the board has been satisfied with their work thus far. He told WTIP, “So far, the work they’ve done with us has been not only high quality, but it’s also been pretty affordable. So the board is fairly comfortable sticking with BKV group for now.”

WTIP’s Kirsten Wisniewski spoke with Administrator James Joerke about the CIP and additional county updates following the Jun. 25 meeting. Additional topics included the upcoming retirement of the Cook County Recorder, storm damage assessments, and legal easement for property owners on county-owned roads. Audio of that interview is below.