There are some changes coming to the Union County Courthouse complex.
The Union County Commissioners have announced that they intend to expand the courthouse campus.
Earlier this year, the commissioners hired an architect to conduct a space study on the county facilities. Court officials have estimated that by 2021 the county will need another common pleas court judge. Additionally, as the court load increases so does the need for additional personnel in the sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices. The commissioners added that space in the county achieve space is filling quicker than expected.
“The need is definitely there,” said Lee.
The architect looked at a pair of options — building a new 28,000 square foot sheriff’s facility away from the courthouse on U.S. 36 or County Home Road, and expanding the justice center.
“The one thing we won’t do is expand onto the courthouse,” Hall said. “It will stay pretty much as it is now.”
He said all three commissioners were “surprised” when the option to expand came back as a better and cheaper alternative.
“I think all three of us expected, going in, that we would be building a stand alone sheriff’s facility,” Lee said.
According to cost estimates from Silling, a stand-alone sheriff’s office would cost between $19.5 and $22.6 million. Expanding the existing justice center would cost between $14.4 and $17.3 million.
“We believe option one does not capture all the costs for the sheriff’s facility because water and sewer are not accessible at either location we are considering,” Lee said.
Additionally, Hall said the cost to install technology at a new sheriff’s office and dispatch center would be “astronomical.” The commissioners said those costs were not figured into the price of the facility.
The commissioners said they intend to build a three-story, 23,000 square foot addition onto the Justice Center.
“In the construction of the justice center, there would be secure parking for the judges,” Lee said.
The entire sheriff’s office will move into the expansion. Currently, the detectives’ bureau is in the county building at the corner of Sixth and Main streets.
“Having the sheriff’s office there adds an additional point of security,” Hall said.
Hansley said that county officials have “made a commitment” to work with the sheriff on the renovations. He said the architects will “pay a lot of attention to his needs because he is giving up what he really wants (the stand alone facility).”
The space used by the sheriff in the past will be used by the courts. Officials said the option allows for potential expansion in the future, but they believe that would likely not be for two decades.
“In the future, 10, 15 years down the road, if we need another additional judge, we would build a sheriff’s facility and convert the second floor to a court room,” Lee said.
The commissioners said the “key piece” to making the expansion work was the October purchase of the former Richwood Bank building east of the courthouse.
The prosecutor’s office will be moved out of the justice center and into that office building. The move allows prosecutors to expand while staying on the county campus near the courtrooms and county office holders. The commissioners purchased the property for $440,000. They are anticipating it will cost between $1.5-$2 million to renovate the building and make it acceptable for use by the prosecutors office.
As part of the overall project, a public entry and plaza will be built on the south side of the justice center. A public elevator and stairway will also be added to the building.
Those additional renovations are estimated to cost between $1.2- $1.5 million.
“Clearly, our budget does not allow us to meet all of our facility needs, but we have to start somewhere,” Hansley said.
The county is currently making final revisions to the plan. Officials are hoping to select an architect and engineering firm yet this year, “once we are comfortable with the financing piece.”
“With the final numbers we are getting from Silling, we need to do a financial analysis to see how much we are going to use from our capital reserves and how much we are going to finance and to make sure we can do this,” Lee said.
Hansley said interest rates are still at historic lows, but they will not stay that way.
“We want to get the plan in place, go to bid and get the rates locked into place,” Hansley said.
In addition to the financing, county officials acknowledge there is another hurdle to deal with.
“We still have to go through the city zoning and they make say we need to address parking issues,” Hansley said. “There might be some opportunity where they would want to partner on this. You never know.”
Lee said the courthouse and justice center parking will be inadequate for the city requirements, but there is enough parking if the lot on Seventh Street is considered.
“We are hoping they look at it like a campus,” Lee said.
County officials had architects look into the possibility of constructing a parking garage.
“We have no intention of going forward with a parking deck, but we wanted to make sure we completed our due diligence and in our space study that we looked at that,” Lee said.
Officials said construction would be done in phases, the first being renovations of the former Richwood Bank building, which could start in the second half of 2018. The prosecutor would hopefully be in the building by June 2019.
“We will have to do this strategically, in phases,” Hansley said.
Silling has estimated the entire project could be completed by June 2020.
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