Court might see new home

When Jackson County Superior Court II opened for business Jan. 1, 2008, it was housed in the courthouse annex on South Walnut Street in Brownstown.

It was supposed to be a temporary home for the court that focuses on family issues, including divorces, custody hearings, protective orders and juvenile issues.

Seven years later, the court’s business continues to be conducted in the meeting room at the annex.

At least one county official would like to see that change.

“We really need to be looking at a better place to house Superior Court II,” county Commissioner Jerry Hounshel told county council members during their meeting Wednesday night.

He said the lack of a permanent home for the court raises several issues, but the most important involves security.

“The kind of cases he (Jackson Superior Court II Judge Bruce MacTavish) handles can be high-tension ones,” Hounshel said.

He said people involved in family issues often can be distraught.

There also is a lack of room for attorneys to talk confidentially with their clients, and those clients often are forced to sit in a small hallway with each other while waiting for a hearing.

A couple of years ago, commissioners began purchasing land around the annex, which sits in the block just east of the courthouse.

At about the same time, they hired Cooler Design, an Indianapolis architectural firm, to provide some potential designs for a new building to house.

The court plan the architect brought back to commissioners will have construction of a building on the land the county has purchased at Walnut and Sugar streets between the courthouse and the annex.

Hounshel said it has been estimated that a new building, which would be connected to the annex, could have a $9.6 million price tag.

“I’m not sure the county needs the burdening of a $9.6 million building right now,” Hounshel said.

He said the county should be free of the debt incurred in the late 1990s to build a new jail sometime late in 2016 or 2017. The debt for a project to renovate the courthouse and annex in 2004 and 2005 should be paid up around 2019 or 2020.

County Councilman Brian Thompson said he always has believed the idea would be to not add any debt until existing debt is paid to keep a relatively stable tax rate.

Hounshel said commissioners would just like to get something in place to either move forward with the project if it can be done at all or drop it if not.

Councilman Charlie Murphy said he supported moving forward with the project.

“We’ve dealt with this thing for years,” Murphy said.

Council members eventually agreed to allow commissioners to investigate a timeline for putting funding in place for construction of a new building to house the court.

Hounshel said Friday morning the timeline will be put together with the help of a financial consultant.

He said the $9.6 million price tag could be lower because it includes estimates for some things that already have been paid for or can be taken out of the project. The price tag for the project, however, also will continue to rise because of inflation each year it is delayed, Hounshel said.

He also said any eventual building plan put in place likely would include room for Jackson Circuit Court and a basement for record storage.

“Most courthouses are functionally obsolete for modern use,” Hounshel said. “Most are becoming historic. We will still use ours.”

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.