The Hancock County commissioners will need to make a multi-million-dollar decision soon. The only question would seem to be whether to spend $9 million for a new court building next to the Hancock County Courthouse, or a similar, but smaller $7.8 million structure.

While the choice may be a tough call, it’s time to make it and set a construction timeline.

Even once approved, it could be two years until the doors open. Judge Kristen Johnson has shown great judicial restraint as the planning process has played out over the past several years. Not only that, but another major community project begs action: a needed expansion of the Hancock County jail. On Thursday, 28 inmates were held in out-of-county jails, meaning taxpayers are continuing to pay for outside housing and related transportation and employee costs.

So, yes, get the financing figured out and keep moving on the new court building.

Officials haven’t always been talking about building a juvenile/probate court, it just seems like it.

The current probate/juvenile court building, originally a church, and later the home of The Courier, and the sheriff’s office after that, was partially renovated in recent years. But converting it to a fully-functioning court building would be difficult and costly, and still not provide the space needed.

We hate to see the historic building razed, but it’s time.

Discussions have led to significant planning and proposals, and finally to two preliminary plans, one a 27,000-square-foot model that would cost $9 million, the other a 22,320-square-foot design costing $7.8 million.

The main difference in the two is the larger one would include space for the domestic relations court, now housed in the courthouse.

Demolishing that existing structure and building on its footprint just west of the courthouse makes sense.

That would allow it to be connected to the courthouse on the west side, eliminating the greenhouse entrance and security risk of bringing inmates to court off Main Street. Having one security entrance at the new building on Main Cross Street would make the need for a second one unnecessary, were the two buildings not joined.

The new court building would connect all the common pleas courts, the criminal and civil divisions, probate and juvenile. With either model, there will be space for probation offices, drug testing, and meeting rooms for attorneys and clients.

Government buildings, especially court ones, should be designed and built with the idea they will last for generations. While the new building may not have the lifespan of the existing courthouse, which is now in its 131st year, one would hope it could meet the county’s needs for the next 50 years, at least.

That said, the commissioners must factor in the future needs of the county courts when deciding which floor plan to approve. While $1.2 million is a considerable sum, it would likely pale in comparison to the cost of a future expansion. The additional space provided in the $9 million version would not go unused.

If financing can be arranged, and court needs are as they appear, the commissioners may be selling the county short by ordering the smaller court.

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