It would have been better had the idea come sooner, like this time last year, but a proposal to go forward with a new Hancock County Probate/Juvenile Court building, rather than renovating the old one, is the right move.
While the court’s current home on Dorney Plaza deserves to be repurposed, it’s not worth an investment of $2.2 million, the amount needed to turn the structure, originally a church, into a functional, secure, modern-day court.
Especially not when a similar-sized court building can be constructed for an estimated $2.7 million. While the cost could rise as the plan moves through design and bid processes, even if the bill rises to $3 million, it would provide a long-term solution to a long-discussed issue.
The existing building, which once housed the press and the offices of this newspaper, is worth preserving. Commissioner Tim Bechtol once proposed turning it into the home of the board of elections. But that was during the campaign last year for an ambitious sales tax issue. Had the tax passed in November, it would have financed construction of a combined county court-administrative building and expanded the county jail. It failed miserably.
Tuesday’s proposal for a down-sized building, strictly for the courts, should be more palatable to the public. The sales tax issue had addressed needs, but was likely too much at once for most to accept.
Separating the county’s different building needs is a better approach.
If the go-ahead is given, funding for the new building will come from the county capital improvement fund, not general fund. While the commissioners won’t have to pitch the tax idea again, they will be doing the right thing by asking for public comment on the project.
The location of the proposed building hasn’t been disclosed, but it seems reasonable to build on the county-owned property just to the west of the current court, across the street from the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts, or on another lot next to the public library.
Having all the city and county courts centrally located makes good sense, due to security needs of each. Both the sheriff’s office and city police department are nearby.
Judge Kristen Johnson, who has been holding court in the 150-year-old building since taking over for longtime Judge Allan Davis in 2015, has patiently waited for a long-needed modernization at 308 Dorney, but says she’s on board for a new court home. “I think it’s a good plan,” she said Tuesday.
We do, too. While the commissioners have yet to work out the funding and building details, there doesn’t appear to be any reason to delay the proceedings any longer.