Courthouse renovations under consideration
Repairs at the courthouse continue to move forward.
Demo has been completed, and the electrical and building inspectors have made their rounds.
The decision now needs to be made for how the county would like to move forward with restoring the courthouse to operational status. The county can simply do the strictly necessary repairs to bring the courthouse up to code and get it open again, or they can choose to take this as an opportunity to renovate some of the spaces inside. The issue was debated at a special meeting called by the county commissioners.
The different departments inside the courthouse have put together a wish list of items they would like the commissioners to consider in the coming renovations.
“A lot of the requests have to do with making the building more functional,” County Administrator Elvebak said acknowledging the building is over 200 years old.
“I think the main focus should be getting us back in the building,” said Commissioner Glynn.
The county already knows it will need to update the bathrooms to make them handicap accessible, in keeping with ADA standards. An OSEA inspection also revealed the courthouse needs bat proofing, as well a cleaning of the current installation. There will be an air quality test before people are allowed back in the building.
One of the big concerns is the set-up of the three different courtrooms. County Attorney Dan McIntosh pointed out that the current set-up of courtroom C, where child custody cases are heard, is not as secure as it should be for what can be contentious hearings.
When the floor was opened to public comment, Robin Husley, a court administrator, sad she appreciated how helpful everyone has been in restoring operations in temporary locations. She wanted to head off any proposal of a new courthouse by saying the current one was convenient, it just needs a few changes. Updates, she said, should be done now. She pointed out, “Things rarely get cheaper over time.”
She also wanted to remind the county that Minnesota statue states court and county must be in agreement on any relocation or restoration plans. She agreed that the courtrooms should be reconfigured for safety and convenience.
District Court Judge Joseph Bueltel told the commissioners it really does matter how you set up a courtroom. The configuration can help ensure authority and respect for the judge’s bench.
Some of the different proposals put forward include adding seating for clerks in courtroom B, fixing security disadvantages in courtroom A by shifting the judge’s bench and jury’s box, and improving the function of courtroom C, so it can be used as a full-time courtroom.
“What we did look at was the three courthouse spaces,” said McIntosh going over the proposed renovations, “Reconfiguring to make it more user friendly.”
Commissioner Abbe was willing to consider renovations, but wanted to know how much further this would push off the county needing to create more courtroom space. “How long into the future would this take us?” said Abbe.
“We don’t control the case load, ” said Husley saying the time would depend on how many cases the county needs to hear, but she added here is a need for more space and revamped courtrooms could push off major renovations for another 10 years.
Commissioner Gnemi proposed $50,000 might be a fair amount for renovations of the courtrooms. Commissioner Krueger also hoped they would look into possibly improving the sound system for the hearing impaired.
The commissioners will continue to discuss the renovations at the next board meeting.