$1.3 Million Dollar Building Renovation Creates New Courtrooms for Newton County
A one-point- three million dollar renovation project will move Newton county courtrooms into a new building.
Not everyone is satisfied with those changes including attorneys and judges. KOAM-TV got a tour of the new courthouse before completion.
A county worker is installing cabinets after a contractor completed most major work at the new court building. Commissioner Marilyn Ruestman called it the home stretch of renovations to the old Smith business building.
Clerks will be together here instead of separated on three floors at the old courthouse. There are holding rooms for prisoners and larger jury rooms on a different side of the building which even connect to a kitchen.
While some argue the county offices should have been moved instead of courtrooms, the presiding commissioner said this was a better option.
Ruestman explained, ” Our architect and we came to the conclusion that we could make this building very much more secure then we could ever make the old courthouse.”
The building sits right across from the historic courthouse where attorneys estimated that a thousand people can move through the system in a day. The new building has three larger courtrooms but not more of them which is why attorney Duane Cooper is against the move.
He said, “The state legislature has approved us for the addition of another circuit judge. We’re never going to get appropriations for that because we have no place to put that judge. This facility is completely inadequate for our needs and the growth we’re experiencing.”
Commissioner Ruestman said a main reason for the move was the mixing of different parties in the hallways of the old courthouse. Separate rooms will be available for the juries and suspects in the new building.
Ruestman added, “In this building our prisoners will come in the back. We’ll have a sally port back there. They ‘ ll go into the first floor courtroom or take their own private elevator to the second floor. ”
A delay with that elevator pushed back the move twice. Once scheduled for the falloff 2016 and then this past March.
But there have also been modifications.The judges dais were built with sheet rock, something Judge Greg Stremel said is not durable and doesn’t offer the aesthetics of wood in the old courtrooms.
Ruestman says real wood veneers will be added.
A bigger change came as a metal support post or beam had to be removed from the center of a courtroom.
Ruestman said, “It impeded his vision over in one corner of the courtroom.” She said it added to the cost. “That post was a big item for us to deal with after we already had built around it.”
Judges have private offices in the new building with private bathrooms. But we found a touch pad for security was wrongly put on their side of a hallway door not the public side to prevent access.
Judge Stremel said judges will ask commissioners to put in writing that issues like that and the dais will be fixed before they move.
Stremel says the judges plan to meet tomorrow morning.
Ruestman said the move is to take place the first week of June. But Stremel explained that the court computer system must be moved by the Office of the State Court Administrators who are scheduled to come from Jefferson City to do that on May 23 rd . If it can’t happen that day because the construction isn’t complete, he said another date could be weeks or months later. He said judges won’t move if the computer system is not in place.
The renovations are being done with a one point three million dollar loan from Arvest bank with a once a year payment of one hundred fifty-two thousand, seven hundred twenty-three dollars. Ruestman believes the county got a great deal on the building at twenty-six dollars a square foot.
The county bought the building for more than four hundred thousand dollars from a bank. Comerica paid only two hundred ninety-four thousand, nine hundred dollars for the same building in foreclosure sale.