Sights set on Old Courthouse in Woodstock

WOODSTOCK – A former McHenry County sheriff’s garage may be in jeopardy after the City Council and the Historic Preservation Commission discussed the future of the Old Courthouse on Tuesday.

The unsightly building is behind the Old Courthouse and has deteriorated to the point that it has no roof and its windows are boarded up.

The building also limits access to a water main that is causing water damage in the Old Courthouse and needs to be replaced.

An architect’s report, commissioned by the city, recommended demolishing the garage rather than restoring it.

However, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission wanted more discussion on what
it would take to restore the building.

The garage was built by jail inmates, including two members of the Dino O’Banion gang – Dapper Dan McCarthy and Heimie Wiess – who were convicted of hijacking booze during Prohibition. That in and of itself is of historical significance, Historic Preservation Commission member Erica Wilson

“I think the garage being built by colorful characters ... is the whole history of the jail and courthouse,” she said. “... I would hope that
further investigation and exploration be done in terms of the feasibility in trying to keep it.”

But some City Council members thought resources would be better spent on repairs to the Old Courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic places. The free-standing garage is not.

The city still would need to file a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the building, which would have to be approved by the historical commission. It was unclear whether the City Council could override the commission should it deny the city’s petition.

The city already once filed for a certificate of appropriateness, but later withdrew its request.

Also at Tuesday’s joint meeting of the council and commission, members of the boards discussed when, realistically, the Old Courthouse could be marketed for development by the private sector. Most agreed it would take some time.

“I think we would be doing a disservice if we go out too quickly,” Mayor Brian Sager said. The earliest he anticipates marketing the building would be January 2014, but even then might be too soon and sometime in 2015 would be preferred, he said.

The 70-page architect’s report indicated that the Old Courthouse needs about $4.7 million in improvements. The city has recommended a five-year spending plan to pay for about $2 million of that. The rest would be done by a private investor.

There are some immediate repairs the city could make this year, such as repairing the causes of water damage that has plagued much of the Old Courthouse.

The building’s most recognizable feature – its dome – is in need of immediate repair. It, along with courthouse’s front steps, are eligible for a grant, for which the city has applied.

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