A project to combine all three Jackson County courts under one roof in Brownstown remains on track, officials report.
The project will require construction of a new building to be known as the Jackson County Justice Center at 109 S. Sugar St.
To keep the project tax neutral, the group of county officials working with the architects is trying to contain construction costs to $10 million or less, county Councilman Brian Thompson said.
Bonds the county sold to complete construction of the jail and juvenile center in 2000 are about to be paid off, and the tax rate will go down unless new bonds to pay for the construction of the justice center are sold.
Thompson said the idea is to keep the property tax rate stable while providing needed services.
The justice center would be designed to house Jackson Circuit Court, presently located in the courthouse a block away; Jackson Superior Court I, now located on the west side of Seymour; and Jackson Superior Court II, located in the courthouse annex near the proposed site of the justice center.
Thompson said one of the main ideas behind putting all three courts in one building is providing a secure location for court proceedings and for those involved in those proceedings.
There would be limited access to the public, staff would enter through a secured door at the rear of the justice center and prisoners would be moved back and forth between the jail and through a sally port, making escapes and contact with the public harder.
At the present time, inmates brought to court for hearings and trials must be escorted up a sidewalk and then through the lobby of the courthouse and upstairs to reach circuit court.
Matt Reedy, president of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, said the justice center would be built along the east side of Sugar Street and the center of it would likely be located across an alley that runs from that street to the parking lot for the courthouse annex.
It would face the backside of the courthouse.
Some soil sampling already has begun in the area, said Reedy, who also is a member of the building committee.
Reedy said the county is pursuing the purchase of two additional properties, one owned by Michael and Christine Kloppenburg at 121 S. Sugar St. and the second owned by Max and Eva Middendorf at 219 E. Cross St.
Thompson said the county owns the remainder of the properties in that block, and the project can go forward without the purchase of those two properties.
Commissioners recently were told by county attorney Susan Bevers that one appraisal for the Middendorf property had been obtained, and there is a second one in the works. To purchase property, a governmental unit must obtain two appraisals and may only offer the owner of the property the average of the two.
Commissioners told Bevers to begin talking with the owners of the second property to see if there is any interest in selling it to the county, Commissioner Jerry Hounshel said.
He said the present plan is to have the project go out for bid early next year.
Thompson said the goal is to get the best prices by finding contractors who need work during the slower time of the year.
Hounshel, who presently is serving out his term as commissioner and won’t be back after Dec. 31, said he is happy to see the project starting to come together because the county has been working on it for eight years.
Jackson Superior Court II opened in the courthouse annex Jan. 1, 2008. It was to be a temporary home for the court, which deals with juvenile and family issues.
Thompson said the present goal is to have construction start sometime in the middle of 2017.
He said the decision to hire Garmong Construction Services to oversee the project at a cost of $35,000 has been worth it because the project has remained on schedule.
“Garmong is playing a pivotal role in getting it done right,” he said. “They bridge the gap between elected officials with limited knowledge and the more knowledgeable design engineers on this project.”
He said Garmong, represented by Dan Zuerner, is able to watch for pitfalls to make sure everything goes as well as possible because sometimes, even the smallest issue can slow a project considerably.
By consolidating the courts, there also will be additional space in other county buildings to make other offices more efficient, Thompson said.
He said he could envision the present Jackson Circuit Court room being used as a meeting room for commissioners, council and other groups with little change because it has such a history and is very classy.
The courthouse and courthouse annex both were renovated in a project that ended in early 2004.