Will County officials gathered Friday to cut the ribbon on the long-awaited, new and modernized county courthouse in downtown Joliet.
The 370,000-square-foot, 10-story building is on the former First Midwest Bank site, on the southwest corner of Ottawa and Jefferson streets, just across from the current courthouse.
Elected officials lauded the efforts of many over the years whose work led to the completion of the massive project.
"It was a long process," said Will County Board member Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort. "It was an over 20-year process and many judges, chief judges, county board members over time contributed, took it a step at a time and finally we got to the point where we did enough planning, we developed revenue streams to support it and we moved forward."
The Will County Board first approved a comprehensive plan for major capital improvement projects throughout the county in 2013. The county purchased the property in 2014, broke ground for construction of the courthouse in late 2017, and operations are expected to begin inside the facility next month.
Dave Tkac, the deputy chief of staff to the Will County executive, highlighted several new aspects of the facility. He said the planners tried to make the courthouse "as user-friendly as possible."
Besides the additional courtrooms and space, there is also a cafeteria for the public to use.
Tkac also touted the fact that the structure is LEED certified, meaning it was designed and constructed with sustainable materials and the building's operation is going to be "highly efficient." For example, there are rooftop gardens on the building that help offset carbon dioxide emissions. The building also has an irrigation system which collects storm water and uses it for the gardens' vegetation.
Lower level floors will contain offices and space for high-volume courts like criminal misdemeanor, small claims and adult probation courts. The fourth and fifth floors will hold criminal felony courts.
Family courts will be on the sixth and seventh floors. The eighth and ninth floors will hold additional courts and the 10th floor will hold a grand jury.
The project also came in slightly under budget. The initial price tag was about $215 million, although Tkac said he expects the total spending on the building to be around $205 million.
It's a testament to the efficiency of the construction work, done by the company Gilbane, which took place over more than 840 days with only one incident in which a worker lost time due to an injury.
"It's been a challenging project in many ways, particularly this past year," Tkac said. "But I got to hand it to our design and construction professionals, also our elected leadership for making the tough decisions and for providing the leadership necessary to keep the project moving forward."
County board members also noted they were able to pay for this new courthouse, as well as other projects, without raising taxes.
Will County Executive Denise Winfrey, D-Joliet, also noted that the completion of the courthouse marks the end of a major capital improvements campaign in the county.
In the last couple of years, Will County has also completed construction of new facilities for the sheriff's office, health department, animal control department and emergency management agency.
"Today we see the culmination of years of planning, presentations, work sessions, committee meetings evolve into an edifice that represents the county as a major influence in the region," Winfrey said.