BROWNSTOWN

Nearly 10 years ago, Jackson County’s newest court opened in a building constructed in the early 1950s on East Walnut Street in Brownstown to house people accused of breaking the law.

In the summer of 2000, a new jail opened on State Road 250 a few blocks away, and the old jail later was converted into an annex for other county offices.

On Jan. 1, 2008, Jackson Superior Court II opened for business inside that building.

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Bruce MacTavish, the court’s first and only judge, continues to this day ruling on issues ranging from juveniles accused of committing crimes to divorces and custody issues to protective orders.

Those rulings come from his bench inside a room that also serves as a meeting room for county commissioners, county council and other groups. There’s no waiting area — except for a narrow hallway outside the room and the parking lot — for juveniles waiting on hearings and feuding family members.

That’s about to change, however, with the construction of a $12.14 million, 38,000-square-foot judicial center on Sugar Street adjacent to the annex and just east of the courthouse.

The groundbreaking for the center, which will house the county’s three courts with room for a fourth when needed, was conducted late Wednesday morning.

The center will allow for safer transfer of prisoners with business in front of one of the judges from the jail and eliminate the need for county clerk’s offices at each court and probation offices at Jackson Circuit Court and Jackson Superior Court I in Seymour.

It also will help with a couple of other issues, Jackson Superior Court I Judge Bruce Markel said during the groundbreaking ceremony.

“The state of Indiana has committed multi-millions of dollars to bring our (the state’s) court system into the 21st century,” Markel said. “We have electronic case management and electronic filings.”

He said the center will allow the courts and many other offices, including the prosecutor, probation and drug and alcohol, to take full advantage of those systems.

Markel said the center also will resolve another issue by creating one location for anyone with business with any of the courts.

“We’ve spent years waiting for people who came to Brownstown to be sent to Seymour and people who went to Seymour to be sent to Brownstown because they were in the wrong court,” Markel said.

He said people often don’t know where to go to file a small claim (Seymour); file a protective order or divorce (Jackson Superior Court II in Brownstown); or obtain a marriage license (the clerk’s office courthouse in Brownstown).

County Councilman Brian Thompson, a member of the design review committee along with Markel, said the center has been a long time in the making.

“It was inevitable because of the needs of the county,” he said.

Thompson said in the future, he can almost guarantee people are going to come to the center and wonder how the county managed to do without it for so long because of the money savings and efficiencies it will produce over the years.

Former Jackson County Commissioner Jerry Hounshel said talk about a new court building began around the time he took office Jan. 1, 2009.

The purpose was to find a home for Jackson Superior Court II in the meeting room of the courthouse annex. The annex had been the county jail until 2000 when the new jail and juvenile detention center opened several blocks away.

“It was temporary,” Hounshel said of the court’s location.

Thompson said the center is a result of the need for that third court, but there’s nothing wrong with the length of time it took to bring the project to fruition.

“To do things the right way, it does take time,” he said.

The main reason it took so long to get the project off the ground was financing, Thompson said.

“We did not want to have a tax impact with this whole deal,” he said.

The bonds to construct the jail and juvenile detention center will be paid off in 2018, so tax revenues used to pay those bonds will now be used to pay for the judicial center.

MacTavish said he thinks the center will be good for the safety of the public and county employees.

He said the court has managed to deal with the size of the present court for so long because of the help from his staff and other county offices and the attorneys.

Commissioner Bob Gillaspy said the project is good overall and will be a great benefit to the citizens of the county.

“It’s all about providing the services,” he said and doing so efficiently as possible and providing as much security as possible.

Commissioners President Matt Reedy said the planning process involved many officeholders and eventually led to the selection of Garmong Construction Services to oversee the project.

“Which opened our eyes to a lot of awesome possibilities that are going to be realized here in a very short time,” he said.

RLTurner Corp. of Zionsville will build the center with completion slated for late summer of 2018, and RQAW Architects designed the two-story building.

Commissioner Drew Markel said one of the first items of the project will involve the demolition of the present county planning and zoning office at Walnut and Sugar streets and the public defender’s office along Cross Street.

Markel said the county is looking at temporary spaces for those offices. The county also has looked at obtaining additional parking.

One of the options for office space involves The Jackson County Banner office. The owners of that building, AIM Media Indiana, have offered it to the county for $65,000, county human resources director Jeff Hubbard recently told commissioners.

No decision has been made about that offer at this time, Markel said, but the county would have to obtain two appraisals and could pay no more than the average of those appraisals.

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