The Public Building Commission of Chicago was established on July 25, 1956. Organized under the Public Building Commission Act passed by the Illinois State Legislature in 1955, this act provided that any county or county seat in the state may organize a Public Building Commission, with the power to issue revenue bonds for the construction of government buildings.
The Public Building Commission has 11 members; six members represent the City of Chicago, and one member each represents the following: Cook County, Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Park District, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, and Cook County Forest Preserve. The PBC elected as its first chairman Mayor Richard J. Daley.
The first building project undertaken by the PBC was the Chicago Civic Center – a new 30-story courthouse and office building for the city and Cook County. The massive building was designed to contain131 courtrooms for the Circuit Court of Cook County and two courtrooms for the First District Appellate Court of Illinois. It also provided office space for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Cook County State’s Attorney, the Chicago Board of Health, various other city and county agencies, as well as a law library and a laboratory facility for the Board of Health.
The design of the building was begun in 1960 and, in 1963, a bond issue of $87 million was sold to finance its construction. The building’s construction was begun that year and completed in 1966.
Included in the Civic Center project was the design for a spacious plaza, with fountains and tree-shaded benches that offer a pleasant open space for the thousands of people who pass through each day. In 1967, the plaza was further enhanced by the addition of a monumental steel sculpture designed by Pablo Picasso.
Another early, large-scale PBC project – begun in 1968 and completed in 1972 – involved remodeling the existing City Hall building to create 11 floors of modern, air-conditioned office space for city agencies.
Also in 1968, the Chicago Board of Education requested that the Public Building Commission build a number of school projects. Subsequently, it was decided to develop the recreation facilities for many of these schools through a cooperative agreement with the Chicago Park District as a joint School-Park Program. The School-Park Program encompassed 26 projects that served almost 40,000 students in eight new high schools, five high school additions, three new middle schools and 10 new elementary schools – all to be built within a five-year period.
Several additional construction highlights of the Public Building Commission’s early years included the Skill Center for City Colleges (1969), the underground garage at McCormick Place for the Chicago Park District (1969), a building program for Public Health and Safety facilities for the City of Chicago (1970), and a remodeling program for the main branch of the Chicago Public Library (1970).