County scales back Justice Center expansion plans

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While plans to renovate the Union County Justice Center have been scaled back, county officials said they want to focus on changes that will make the facility more secure. A new plan calls for an expansion of lobby between the courthouse and the justice center as well as the public entry way on the south side of the buildings. A public elevator and a staircase will be added to the north side of the justice center.
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Identified as too expensive, a planned expansion at the Union County Justice Center is becoming less expansive.
Union County officials said they will scale back on a planned expansion of the Justice Center.
“The project has not been canceled, it has just been put on hold, hopefully for a couple of years,” County Administrator Tim Hansley said.
Hansley said the county will expand and reconfigure the lobby between the courthouse and the Justice Center, as well as the public entryway on the south side of the buildings. The change will allow for a better flow of traffic into, out of and through the Justice Center and courthouse.
“It kind of takes away some of the wandering around in there,” County Facilities and Safety Director Randy Riffle said.
The current public elevator will become a secure elevator for courthouse officials only. A public elevator and a staircase will be added to the north side of the Justice Center.
“It is all about the security for the courthouse and our employees over there,” Riffle said.
Hansley said a series of studies identified courthouse safety as a possible concern. He said officials felt even with revenue concerns, safety was important.
“That is one of the things we decided to go forward with, based on the recommendations,” Hansley said.
Court officials estimated 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.
Last year, the county commissioners announced they would build a three-story, 23,000 square-foot addition to the southwest corner of the Justice Center.
While the price tag for that expansion was originally projected to be between $14.4 and $17.3 million, officials said it had grown to about $23 million.
“When it got to be over $20 million, that’s when we decided to scale back and see if we couldn’t buy a couple more years of operating funds,” Hansley said.
He said the expense of expanding would likely cut into the county’s operating funds at a time when revenue is uncertain and expenses continue to increase.
“We just felt we didn’t want to move forward with that project when our revenue was not growing as we had hoped.”
Hansley said that if the county paid $20 million for the expansion, it could not afford to provide needed services.
“Before we built the building, we thought we better handle the programming, the day-to-day operations,” Hansley said.
Officials said the expansion was stopped just in time.
“We decided we had to stop it before we got too far down the line and wasted any money,” Hansley said.
Hansley said the project is not estimated at $3.5 million.
“We won’t know until we go to bid on it,” Hansley said. “It could blow our budget as well.”
Hansley said the county is finalizing the design plans now. As part of that process, the county will get a firm estimate on the project’s costs.
From there the design will need to be reviewed and approved by the city. He said that process could take up to 90 days. Once that is completed, a bond will be secured and the project will be put out to bid.
Officials said they are hoping to have a contractor selected by the end of the year.
Hansley also said there could be some changes made to plans for the former Richwood Bank building.
Hansley said the building will be used to handle the county prosecutor’s offices.
“We don’t have anything concrete yet,” Riffle added.
Officials reiterated in addition to the new prosecutor’s office, changes to the Justice Center are not finalized.
“All of this is still subject to design and putting this out to bid and it coming back within our estimates,” Hansley said. “It can all be changed if we can’t afford it.”



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