KANKAKEE — It’s no secret that the jury assembly room in the basement of the Kankakee County courthouse isn’t made for comfort.
The county would like to renovate the courthouse basement, and the jury assembly room is at the top of the list. There’s a potential to receive state grant money for brick-and-mortar improvements at the courthouse.
“We’ve identified the basement as an area that we’d like to spend some money because of issues we have regarding access, regarding jury assembly and just space needs in general,” Wes Andrews, Kankakee County maintenance director, said at the county board’s Highways and Buildings committee meeting on Thursday. “We’ve met with Chief Judge [Michael] Kramer and others, and the biggest issue right now is jury assembly. That was identified as issue No. 1 with the amount of people that we have in the jury assembly area.”
Board chairman Andy Wheeler said the project to make the needed upgrades could be in the neighborhood of $400,000, and the work would only be done with grant money.
“We have this grant opportunity for access and use of the courthouse if the money ends up still being there. We’re not going to spend money until we know we’ve actually got this in our hands,” Wheeler said. “It’s an appropriation that’s in the [state] budget, but it’s not in the capital plan, so we have to be careful on that.”
What the county would like to do is make a separate entrance to the jury room that would bypass the main entrance to the courthouse along with other upgrades.
“There will be security going into jury assembly, a series of lockers for people to either bring a tablet or their phone because you’re sitting down there for long periods of time,” Wheeler said. “If you do get called to a jury, you would put your phone and coat in a locker and then go through security to come upstairs.
“That’s dedicated toward convenience and comfort for people who are serving on the jury, which is packed with frustration. The other part is the 35-year-old plastic chairs in there that are very uncomfortable for anybody.”
The improvements are just in the planning stages. Andrews said he’s met with the county’s architect, Doug Bright of Bright Architects, along with Kramer. Andrews said Bright could work on some plans on the basement area for $2,500.
“We all thought it made a lot of sense to look at the storage areas and see if we could get more space,” Andrews said. “As long as we’re doing all of this, does it make sense to look at the storage area and see if we could get more space for jury assembly and possibly some office areas as well?”
The committee agreed that the money should be spent to work on an architect’s plan, but the county’s Finance Committee is the entity that has to OK the allocation.
“It needs to be looked at,” board member Craig Long said. “It needs to be addressed, and planning is always a good thing.”
Andrews said he’s working with Ben Wilson, county transportation manager, and Chris Koerner, assistant director of finance, on the grant proposal.
“It’s very involved,” Andrews said.
Wheeler said it’s a continuation of the two-year process on work at the courthouse that has been in the planning stage for several years.
“I hope it comes to fruition,” he said. “We’re going to plan like it’s going to happen, and we’re really close on the drawings.”