JOLIET – Boxes of old files, an interrogation room table and chairs, empty shell casings and Starbucks coffee cups were among the items left behind by the Will County Sheriff’s Office when staff vacated this past summer the antiquated Eagle building at 20 W. Washington St. in downtown Joliet.
Having exhausted its use for mainly the investigative unit of the sheriff’s office, the decades-old, three-story structure behind the Will County Courthouse is set to be torn down as early as this spring and a parking lot will take its place, according to the county.
Bids for asbestos abatement, demolition and creation of a surface parking lot were due Tuesday. Gould Brothers LLC – based in Joliet – came in with the lowest bid at just under $299,450, according to county officials.
The building’s history
Little is known about the Eagle building, but the tan brick structure was built as a lodge for the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an international civic club, according to the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The 1903 building accommodated the group’s meetings and activities, including dances, according to Herald-News archives.
The historical museum has only tidbits of information about the building, said Greg Peerbolte, the museum’s executive director. While searching through archives, Peerbolte said he did learn that a Joliet-based Fraternal Order of Eagles still exists to this day at another location.
The Eagle building’s address was 904 W. Washington St. until 1938, when the city of Joliet underwent a significant change in the street numbering system, he said.
County leaders have pointed to the building’s poor insulation, crumbling infrastructure and asbestos-ridden pipes and floor tiles as reason enough to demolish it as the county pushes forward with plans for a new state-of-the-art sheriff’s facility on Laraway Road. That is set to replace the existing structure on the same site that currently houses the majority of the departments of the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s offices were vacated in August, but remnants of the decades-old building’s time as a host for the Eagles organization remain, including the original Fraternal Order of Eagles inscription that’s etched into the building’s facade. Ornate columns can be seen in a narrow hallway – likely the remains of a former stage where the Eagles hosted dances and other entertainment events.
One thing not normally found in a sheriff’s facility, a beer cooler, was once used by the Eagles. But the sheriff’s office had another use for it, said Mike Miglorini, the county’s director of maintenance
“This is where [the Eagles] kept the kegs of beer for the Eagles club,” Miglorini said during a walk-through of the building Wednesday. “For the jail ... this is where we kept all the extra keys for all the cells. They are supposed to be kept in a different building.”
Original 1903 boiler, other issues
Over the years, the list of problems at the Eagle building has grown exponentially, Miglorini said.
While his department did not oversee the maintenance of the building, Miglorini says he’s fairly intimate with all of its structural issues.
Most years, the electrical system would overload and need repairs. Single-pane windows – coupled with lack of insulation – resulted in extremely cold temperatures in the winter and hot temperatures in the summer, he said.
In August, a state inspector red-tagged the building’s boiler, which is original to the 1903 building, Miglorini said. That left the county with two choices: Replace the boiler or vacate the building.
This past summer, several of the sheriff’s investigative offices were moved into the First Midwest Bank building, helping set in motion the eventual demolition of the Eagles building.
“They want this done. The building is empty. The sooner we can move it along, the better,” said Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh Sr.
The county purchased for $4 million the bank building last year with the intent to build a new courthouse on the 4.3-acre site.
County officials hope to break ground on the new 65,000-square-foot sheriff’s facility this spring with a completion date in September 2017. Once offices that are now in the First Midwest Bank are moved to the new Laraway Road facility, the bank will be torn down so the site can be used for the future courthouse.
• This article has been updated from its original publication to correct the name of Gould Brothers LLC. The Herald-News regrets the error.