WASHBURN McLean County Commissioners decided Tuesday that the old county courthouse should be demolished, despite a proposal from a group of citizens who hope to save the building.
Chairman Ron Kresbsbach, Garrison, and commissioners Steve Lee, Mercer, and Julie Hudson-Schenfisch, Washburn, all said there are too many health concerns with the old courthouse and that the county would still be liable even if they sold it for $1 to the McLean County Heritage Preservation Foundation as proposed.
Voters had approved a new courthouse in November 2010 and demolition of the old courthouse and its 1963 addition. The $4.5 million new courthouse is currently under construction and the county is scheduled to move into it by the end of August. No firm demolition date has been set for the old courthouse, but Krebsbach said asbestos abatement and cleaning must take place first.
The old McLean County Courthouse, of wood construction with a brick face, should be torn down despite local efforts to save it, the county commission decided Tuesday.
Lee said Tuesday that he sympathizes with people who want to preserve the courthouse, since he also likes old buildings, but he doesn't think they understand how expensive it would be to keep them. He also said nothing will make the building safe for occupancy.
"There's bat guano in the walls and in the ceiling," he said, and the building also tested positive for histoplasmosis, which can be caused by bat droppings. When the commission was researching options for a new building, they learned that it would cost more to attempt to restore the historic courthouse than it would to build a new one, said Lee.
Hudson-Schenfisch said she wanted to follow the wishes of the voters who approved demolition of the old courthouse and is also concerned about the safety of the building.
Dennis Kost, Washburn, is the spokesman for the McLean County Heritage Preservation Foundation that presented a proposal for preserving the old courthouse at the commission meeting on Tuesday. The group asked the commission to sell the building to it for $1. The group said that move would save the county $1 million in demolition costs; would relieve the liability issues for the county; would save taxpayer upkeep of the property and they would make the building available for county use if needed. It would also provide low rent spaces for small business shops and other community needs, they said.
As an alternative, the group offered to buy the building for $10,000 but said they think it should be auctioned off to the highest bidder on the open market.
Kost said he is particularly bothered by plans to tear down the 1963 addition to the courthouse, which has been made handicapped accessible and is still in use. He also feels that the wording on the November 2010 ballot might have been misleading and voters might not have realized they were voting to demolish the courthouse and the 1963 addition as well as to build a new courthouse.
Lee said that the 1963 addition can't be salvaged because it shares one wall with the old courthouse and also runs on the same heating and electrical system as the old building. It would not be cost effective to try to save it and Lee said the 1963 addition itself doesn't have much historic value. The old courthouse is wood construction with a brick face, not a solid brick building, he said.
Kost said he and other members of the group plan to meet and discuss further options for attempting to save the building.