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Local Editorials

Our view: Safety issues warrant demolition of old county jail

There are reasons why the old Kendall County jail in downtown Yorkville has stood vacant and deteriorating over the past quarter of a century.

County officials did not want to spend the funds necessary to maintain the building as it sat vacant from 1992, when the new jail was opened, to 2010, when it sold the building to the city. Meanwhile, city officials, who secured two state grants totaling $160,000 to buy the building, soon found themselves in the same situation as their county predecessors.

Facing the need to pay for more pressing public infrastructure projects – including the overdue resurfacing of miles of city streets – city officials have passed on budgeting funds to maintain, let alone fix up, the old jail.

A further, major complication has been that no public or private entity has come forward with a workable proposal for how a renovated jail might be used. Over the years we’ve heard well-intended suggestions that it could have a new life as a local history museum or possibly a restaurant or office building. But if there is a civic-minded individual or group with money and a viable plan to restore and re-use the building, they have chosen to remain silent.

Apart from the jail’s deteriorated condition, we strongly suspect the lack of suitors for the building is due in part to its floor plan and configuration.

The original portion of the building with its red brick facade and peaked roof continues to retain its 1890s residential-like appearance, but an addition that was tacked onto the side of the building in the mid-20th century severely compromised the building’s historic appearance and would now make a potential renovation even more costly.

As we reported May 23, the city’s building code official, Pete Ratos, inspected the jail in April and issued a report recommending the building’s prompt demolition. In his report, Ratos noted the jail’s roof “has completely failed at the connection point of the old and new sections of the building. This is allowing water in between the structures and making it almost impossible to move from one section of the building to the other safely.”

The roof issue, Ratos continued, “is also causing the new building to drop slightly and it appears that the old section is being pulled downward with it. The front room in the old section is now showing a separation between the floor and wall that was not there last year.” Ratos also noted in the report the section of the jail that was added in the 1950s is “full of toxic mold.”

We believe it’s extremely bad form for the city – the governmental agency responsible for enforcing local building codes – to continue to own a derelict property. It’s also our opinion that it could serve to be a temptation to curious children who are now out on summer break looking for something to do, making it a potential safety and legal liability.

We sympathize with the old jail’s neighbors who have to live across the street or around the corner from a seriously deteriorating building, as well. In its current condition, the jail likely serves to diminish the value of all adjoining and nearby properties.

Based on the findings in Ratos’ report and the lack of any viable reuse and restoration plan, we believe the city should move forward with the building’s demolition.

We do not make this recommendation lightly. We understand and appreciate the importance of local historic buildings. But, Ratos’ comment in his report that the jail is “now at the point where the city will need to take action to protect the residents in the area of the building” warrants prompt action by the city.

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