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New court offers victims safety
Design segregates abusers, families

Thursday, September 29, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Battered women and their children will no longer have to cram into narrow hallways, often brushing against their abusers, in the new Cook County Domestic Violence Courthouse slated to open next month.

"This is really about getting out of a facility that compromised the day-to-day administration of justice," said Robert Bastone, a recently retired Cook County judge now working as an assistant to Chief Judge Timothy Evans. "It was just a bad situation."

The new $62 million courthouse at 555 W. Harrison St. will replace the dirty and unsafe quarters at 1340 S. Michigan Ave. The facility will open to the public Oct. 11, but a grand opening ceremony is scheduled for Thursday.

The four-story courthouse will give victims of domestic violence and their children a well-lit and clean facility that has been carefully designed to keep them segregated from their alleged offenders.

"Physically, it was such a terrible thing to work with for so long," victim advocate Mary Trew said. "It's really a miracle nothing has happened there."

The facility also will consolidate civil orders of protection, now located at 28 N. Clark St., giving abused women one location to turn to in their quest for help from the courts.

Advocates pushed for years to get the Domestic Violence Court moved out of the facility at Michigan and 13th Street. In the spring of 2002, Cook County Board President John Stroger recommended moving the facility to the former Helene Curtis headquarters along the Chicago River.

That plan soured after the River North Association objected and Mayor Richard Daley called the location "silly" for such a use.

The county switched to its backup plan, although at the time the cost was estimated at $75 million, 25 percent higher than the Helene Curtis site.

The renovation of the 113-year-old brick warehouse was completed for $51 million, said Michael LaMont, Cook County's director of capital planning. Coupled with the purchase price of $11.1 million, the final price tag is much lower than originally anticipated.

The courthouse is the county's first "green" facility, meaning it includes environmentally friendly features such as solar panels, piping to recycle rainwater for landscaping and high-efficiency mechanical systems.

"For the first time in anyone's memory, the courthouse will provide a safe, efficient location for the victims of domestic violence," said Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, who was a leading advocate for both the court and its environmental features.



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