Code violations bring back issue of new building for Wheatland Township
By Hank Beckman For the Sun August 25, 2012 11:24PM
Boxes containing township paperwork show signs of water damage at the Wheatland Township administrative building on Friday, August 24, 2012. Will County officials recently inspected the building and found multiple areas of non-compliance, including "various areas beneath translucent fiberglass panels [that] display water damage," according to a document shown to the Sun. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:22AM
Will County building inspectors have cited Wheatland Township for 27 different building code violations at the township administration building on 91st Street in Naperville, and in the process reopened the often-heated debate about a proposed new township building.
While Township Supervisor Todd Morse sees the violations as a reason to go back to the township electors (registered voters) and revisit the issue of a new building, others on the township’s Board of Commissioners think he’s using the issue as an excuse to bring back the proposed $1.5 million facility that electors rejected in the past.
A special trustees meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday evening at the administration center to address the matter.
In Illinois townships, township residents at a town meeting can decide certain matters by popular vote, and in a vote last year the residents directed the township to cease in its efforts to build a new facility on land it owns at Route 59 and 103rd Street and sell the property.
The vote against the new facility was 128 to 19 and was the result of a long and often contentious battle between those, like Morse, who were in favor of the new building, and a determined group of citizens and some allies on the board who thought that spending money on a new building wasn’t needed, especially during bad economic times.
Morse said that township politics are not the concern of the Will County officials who directed the township to comply with its codes concerning the administration building.
“It has to be done,” Morse said, although he indicated that the county was willing to relax the time frame somewhat if the township showed it was addressing the problems.
In a letter dated Aug. 9, Will County Zoning Code Enforcement Manager Elizabeth Dunn listed the violations and indicated that the inspection was prompted by an anonymous complaint. Attempts to contact Dunn’s office were unsuccessful as the Sun went to press Saturday.
Some of the violations, such as the handicapped parking space not having a fine amount posted and the toilet’s emergency lighting being inoperable, appear to be relatively minor and easily remedied.
But others, such as non-existent roof venting, non-compliant electrical wiring and insufficient effort to keep the water supply free from contamination, are potentially dangerous and expensive to remedy, Morse said.
Morse maintains that he will not continue to allow township employees to work in what he considers an unsafe environment.
He pointed to the lack of a vapor barrier for the building to protect the water supply as an item that could be particularly costly.
Morse said that an architect hired to assess the situation has told him that it would be cheaper to demolish the current building than do the necessary repairs.
Morse sees the township as having two options: either demolish the building and rebuild on the same property or keep the land at 103rd Street and Route 59 and build a new facility there.
Either way, the issue will have to go back to township electors at a special town meeting, which Morse favors.
“Take it to the people,” he said.
Some township trustees see it differently.
“I have to abide by what the electors decided,” Karl Karantonis said of the resident vote not to go forward with a new building.
Karantonis has long been sympathetic to the citizen’s group opposing the new building and has repeatedly stressed his own reservations about the proposal.
He noted the effort made after the August 2011 vote to turn the property at 103rd and Route 59 into a park and the voters’ order that the township not build a new facility and sell the property.
“That flies in the face of the determination of the electors,” Karantonis said.
Karantonis stressed that if problems existed with life safety issues at the township building, they were the direct responsibility of the township supervisor, Todd Morse.
“It’s the responsibility of the supervisor, quite frankly,” he said. “He has that responsibility.”
Trustee Joe Hudetz said he was suspicious of who made the phone call to the county about the code violations.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.
Hudetz said that he thought all of the items on the violation list could be fixed for $3,000 to $5,000.
“Todd is using this as grounds that the (township) building needs to be condemned,” he said.
Morse scoffed at any notion that he would use code violations as a means to get a new facility built.
As for the suspicion that he was behind the anonymous phone call to Will County, he denied any responsibility.
“Someone, and I don’t know who, called and said the building was not complying,” he said.