What to do with Hancock County Probate/Juvenile Court has been a topic of discussion for months now, but there’s no indication that the case is even close to being closed.
Judge Kristen Johnson, to her credit, has made a strong argument that the court, located in a historic building on Dorney Plaza, should be kept where it is, but updated.
Her position is a sound one.
But the proposed renovation project only attracted one bid, and it was for $1.2 million, about $300,000 over the architect’s estimate. That has given the Hancock County commissioners the right to pause.
The only call to make, it would seem, is to decide whether to rebid or downsize the project. But at Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners discussed other options including moving the court to county-owned property on South Main Street where the county adult probation department is currently located.
Another idea — a better one we think — is to move the court back to where it once operated, the nearby Hancock County Courthouse. Doing so would address concerns about security, since an officer is stationed at the public entrance to the courthouse. The move would also mean all county courts would be in one place.
An issue with the courthouse idea is whether there would be enough space for the court in a place that now houses the auditor, treasurer and recorder. Another may be the cost of remodeling, including moving information technology.
Just reshuffling the court and the other county offices would be expensive. Remodeling may be cost-prohibitive.
Other discussions regarding “real estate matters” went on behind closed doors during an executive session Tuesday.
Topics of discussion may have been about leasing or buying existing office space for the court. Or, perhaps the commissioners may have revisited the pie-in-the-sky option of constructing a new county government building.
That, too, may need a second look before the county decides to spend $1.2 million or more on renovations at the current location.
Food for thought: The county already owns property just to the north of the justice center and another lot at the corner of West Main Cross and Broadway. Findlay, meanwhile, owns property downtown as well, including the old Parker Lumber building and the former Hostetler Mill building.
Could the city and county swap land?
The main obstacle with the new building option, though, may be money, not real estate. Rough estimates done at the time it was suggested was that a new government building would cost anywhere from $6 million to $8 million. It may be more now.
While that wouldn’t appear to fit the budget, the commissioners should examine all possibilities.
Meanwhile, Judge Johnson is ready for the upgrades to be done yesterday. Her judicial patience may be tested.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Brian Robertson suggested that the county should only spend the money once, spend it right, and provide long-term benefit for taxpayer dollars. Doing all that, of course, makes perfect sense, but won’t be as easy as it sounds.
- The Docket
- Member Service