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Group addresses Rock Island County Board in "last ditch" effort to save old courthouse

Some residents are asking the county board to reconsider demolishing the old courthouse and repurpose it instead of turning it into an empty green space.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Residents in Rock Island County aren't ready to stop their fight to save the old courthouse.

Supporters of the century-old courthouse's protection addressed the Rock Island County Board on Aug. 16 to ask the board to reconsider reusing the courthouse instead of demolishing it.

"We're among a number of Rock Island County voters who view this building as a valuable, irreplaceable, historical landmark," Greg Swanson said. "We think it's important to preserve it and do adaptive reuse."

The 1897 building has sat empty for several years after a Rock Island County judge declared the building a public safety hazard and it was readied for demolition in 2019.

The Courthouse would have been torn down in early 2020 had it not been for a lawsuit filed by preservationists and upheld by the state Appeals Court.

The Court ruled demolition could proceed once the county completed historic recordation of the building, including taking photos, drawings and writing a historical narrative. County officials told News 8 that a team did the recordation on May 16 and the county is awaiting the results.

"It's not enough, because if you look at this building, it has a solid structure," Swanson said. "It's been neglected for years, but it can be cleaned up, made into something beautiful and very useful."

The county has previously stated that it will be turned into a green space. Swanson said he's heard several other ideas proposed, including turning it into a VA Center, art gallery or offices.

"They're going to spend hundreds of thousands to knock this down. That money can be saved and we can bring in outside money to rehab it," Swanson said. "This revitalized can really bring something good to Rock Island County and downtown Rock Island."

The Courthouse Referendum Committee is asking the board to hire an independent structural engineer to determine if the courthouse building is structurally sound. If it's not sound, then they'll understand not preserving it, Swanson said.

In a statement, board Chairman Richard Brunk said: "While in 2018 the county did explore potential reuse of the old courthouse for county use, it was simply not meant to be. A number of barriers and very complex decisions have led us to this point. The courthouse continues to be committed to the recordation process helping to ensure that the building will be properly recorded for historic prosperity."

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