By JOY BROWN
Hearing no objections from City Council members on Tuesday, Findlay administrators plan to move forward this fall with Municipal Building renovations that will create more space for municipal court and relocate part of the police department.
The project, estimated to cost $350,000, will be paid for from the court’s improvement fund, which was created years ago for this purpose.
Pleading their case at a special council meeting Tuesday, Findlay Municipal Court Judges Robert Fry and Jonathan Starn explained their problems are twofold: their caseloads have risen dramatically in recent years; and the current court configuration, used by everyone from probation officers to trial witnesses, provides no privacy.
“The caseload is not manageable as to provide an ethical, practical and realistic area for people to convene and for the courts,” said Fry, particularly from Tuesdays through Thursdays when traffic and criminal cases are addressed. Those types of cases rose in number by nearly 50 percent from 2011 to 2013, he said.
Criminal jury trials on Starn’s docket are scheduled into January.
“That is getting to the point where it’s unreasonable. We need to get these cases resolved in a quicker fashion.
And the rooms for conferences, probation activities and other court-related matters are “totally congested,” said Fry.
On the second floor, where the courts and police department administration are now located, the city intends to relocate court administrative offices to the other side of the hallway to create a third courtroom where a magistrate will preside.
Police department offices will relocate to the first floor where unused space will provide some room for reporting and booking.
Police records, now on the second floor, will move to the third-floor engineering records room. Many engineering records are getting digitized, freeing up space where papers were once stored.
“The police department is going to get a great repurposing of their space. The functionality of what they’re trying to accomplish downstairs is not really working right now,” said Mayor Lydia Mihalik.
Sixth Ward Councilman Andy Douglas asked the judges if there were other space-freeing options, such as relocating probation work to another building.
Starn said the collaborative, face-to-face system that exists would be disrupted by such a move elsewhere.
“It doesn’t sound like this is a long-term fix,” said Douglas.
“We probably need more space than this. But to be quite honest, anything we can get at this time will be a blessing and a big help,” Fry said. “I’d say between five and 10 years, you’ll probably need to be looking at something else” to better accommodate court services, he said.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer said he will come back to council with a more solidified project scope and detailed estimate.
Schmelzer, who was instrumental in developing the rough renovation draft, would like for design work to be finalized with a contractor this fall, and construction to begin this winter and to be done in phases with court renovations completed last.