Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2012, 10:46 pm

New RI Board chairman wants building update plan

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

New Rock Island County Board chairman Phil Banaszek wants the county to develop a plan to update county buildings.

The courthouse and county office building in downtown Rock Island are more than a century old and there's general agreement the county needs to develop a plan to renovate the properties or move them somewhere else.

In the 1990s, the county decided to build a new jail because of mounting legal problems related to overcrowding at the old building, Mr. Banaszek said, adding that he wants to make sure the county does not run into similar problems again.

He said that on his first day in the office as chairman, an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspector dropped by the county office building.

"This kind of stuff can force you into a situation and I guess that's my biggest concern is that I don't want to be like we were with the jail forced into a situation," Mr. Banaszek said.

But coming up with a solution to the building problem won't be easy.

Former chairman Jim Bohnsack tried to resolve the problem when he presented a proposal from a developer to build a new county complex at the Quad Cities Industrial Center.

But the plan met with opposition from Republicans and concerns from the public about the implications for downtown Rock Island if the county moved out.

Mr. Banaszek said the county board should have looked at several options, and he will support a plan to ask developers to bring proposals to the county, whichcould include building new, or renovating the existing properties.

"It's an issue that's been out there for a long time, and we need to address it," Mr. Banaszek said. "I'm not going to shy away from it, and honestly I feel most of the county board members I've spoke to feel the same way."

Any option put before the county is likely to be expensive, but Mr. Banaszek said the county could take advantage of the low interest rates currently available to local governments.

Refurbishing the current buildings may be too costly, he said."You're probably looking at a new building one way or the other. Once again, I think it's going to come down to what's cost effective."

Rock Island County Board member Rod Simmer, R-Rock Island, agrees that something needs to be done to improve the county's aging offices.

"We can't continue to let the buildings rot out under our feet," he said, adding thathe was "on board" with Mr. Banaszek's proposal to seek ideas from developers.

Mr. Banaszek said he would suggest to one of the county board's committees early next year to work on a request for proposals from developers.He also plans to meet with Rock Island County Chief Judge Jeffrey O'Connor to seek input on the future of the courthouse.