By JIM MAURER
In a change of plans, the new county court building will be constructed on county-owned property adjacent to the post office building on West Main Cross Street.
During a Hancock County commissioners’ session Tuesday, seven elected county officials voted 6-1 to construct the proposed 27,000-square-foot building on the site of the former Media One/Time Warner building, located west of the county courthouse.
The property has been used as a parking lot since the structure was demolished after the 2007 flood.
Previously, plans have been geared toward attaching the new building, which will house probate/juvenile and domestic relations courts, to the west side of the county courthouse. Plans have been shown several times for proposals at the location.
Commissioners Mark Gazarek and Tim Bechtol, Clerk of Courts Cathy Prosser Wilcox, Sheriff Mike Heldman, Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Kristen Johnson, and Common Pleas Court Judge Reginald Routson voted for the West Main Street location. Commissioner Brian Robertson favored attaching the new court building to the courthouse.
State law allows plans concerning the construction of a courthouse or jail to be approved by not only the three county commissioners but also by county clerk of courts, county sheriff, county probate judge and a representative of the common pleas court.
Last month, Judge Johnson suggested the parking lot location to save county money by not having to move the court into temporary quarters in a county-owned building on Jefferson Street during the 12-14 month construction period. There would also be no security issues in the existing court building, while construction is done nearby.
During the discussion Tuesday, Robertson was the only person who voiced support for attaching the new building to the 132-year-old county courthouse. He said a previous estimate of more than $2 million to replace the enclosed west security entrance, known as the greenhouse wouldn’t be an issue with an attached structure. It would be removed as part of construction.
He said other benefits for that location included: synergy with surrounding government buildings; Americans with Disabilities Act restrooms in the new addition, which would serve both structures; the nearby vacant lot could be used for future expansion of the county jail; the location would resolve the existing cramped space for the courts.
Bruce Miller, principal with Garmann/Miller architects, Minster, said some adjustments will be necessary, but the vacant site can accommodate the structure.
Miller suggested demolition of the existing probate/juvenile court building to provide additional parking.
Bechtol suggested removing only the additions to the structure, leaving the original building, constructed as a church in the 1860s, for records storage. It would be close to existing county offices. Otherwise storage space would have to be constructed or utilized in existing county buildings on Hancock County 140. Such a plan would not be convenient for county court employees, he said.
Robertson repeated his previous assertion the county would regret “in 50-100 years” utilizing the vacant lot for a court building.
“I feel it’s a short-sided decision,” he said.
Bechtol said there were positives and negatives to each location.
Judge Routson said an attached building, would require two security entrances if there are building entrances on the north and south ends; handicapped-accessible parking may require utilizing county space near the library and require crossing West Main Cross Street at the flashing walkway.