By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — A short-range plan to utilize the nearly vacant Public Safety Building could be in the works.
But, Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney says the best long-term solution is to go ahead with a previous proposal to tear the building down.
“It’s impossible that there is going to be a long-term tenant situation,” Haney told WIFR.
The interim plan being discussed is to lease space to the Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD). As of now, however, talks are preliminary, and the measure was taken off the board’s agenda Thursday.
Even if RMTD and the county agree on a lease, annual upkeep costs of around $1.5 million would likely outstrip any revenue received from a single tenant. And because the building has outlived its expectancy, a rehab project won’t be in the works in light of a budget deficit that has already caused a wave of layoffs in the sheriff’s department and courts.
Mounting demolition costs would have to be considered, too. That leaves leaders with a decision to make about what is best for taxpayers. Haney said while something momentary could be beneficial, demoing the 41-year-old building is still the best overall option.
“We want to make sure that everything we do makes sense long term,” Haney said.
A lease agreement with RMTD could be back in front of the board in two weeks. Demolition could begin in 2019.
The Public Safety Building opened in 1976 and housed the Rockford Police Department, Winnebago County Jail and Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department. Inmates and the sheriff’s department left in 2007 when the Justice Center opened a block west.
The Winnebago County Coroner moved to 403 Elm St. in 2015. The morgue is still in the Public Safety Building basement and would be accessed through a rebuilt courthouse entrance after the building is razed.
Rockford Police finished vacating the building this year, completing the city’s years-long geographic policing project that split the department into three precincts. The District 1 station at 1045 W. State St., and serves the west side. District 2, at 410 Broadway, serves central Rockford and the near-east side.
Rockford Police administrative offices are housed inside District 3, 557 S. New Towne Drive. Officers assigned there serve the far-east side. R.