When it comes to erecting a new Redwood County justice center/courthouse, the county board is focused on getting it right.
That could mean plans to construct the project may be delayed.
In fact, after a meeting it held with some of the courthouse employees, the board is looking to take a step back and open up the dialogue with those employees and the project architect.
Several of those who work in the courthouse met Aug. 7 with the county commissioners to raise a few of their concerns. Those concerns centered around the most recent discussions the board has been having.
“Paring down the courthouse is not going to get us what we need,” said Jenna Peterson, Redwood County attorney, adding the focus needs to be on the main issue – the safety and security of employees and the general public.
Peterson encouraged the board members to visit the current courthouse during a Monday morning in order to see what happens in an inefficient building. She said there are times when defendants are lined up on the walls outside of the courthouse, and the victims and their families have to walk right past them.
“There are times when it is absolute chaos,” said Peterson.
Jim Salfer, county commissioner, said while the board has been discussing cutting back the project the board has maintained its focus on that main issue of safety and security.
Peterson added the dialogue about pulling some of the departments out of the courthouse would only complicate things, as many of the departments work together.
As an example, there were concerns raised about moving the child advocacy center out of the courthouse, as many of the people who work with that program, whether it be the county attorney’s office or law enforcement, need to have the flexibility to excuse themselves for brief periods of time during what can be a very long interview process.
Sarah Hogy-Reynolds, who coordinates the child advocacy center, indicated there are concerns she did not recognize when first asked about moving the program out of the courthouse, including the issue of confidentiality that exists.
When someone walks into the courthouse others who may see them won’t necessarily know why they are there. If there is a separate site solely for the child advocacy center people will know where they are going and why they are going there.
Lon Walling questioned the issue of having a child enter into a government entity was an issue, as it can be intimidating, especially for someone who is younger.
Denise Kerkhoff, crime victim services coordinator for the Redwood County attorney’s office, said the bigger issue is confidentiality for the child, adding in her years of working with victims she has never gotten the impression that coming into the courthouse was intimidating for a child.
Eric Johnson, who coordinates the restorative justice program, said while moving that department out of the courthouse is not ideal it is not a major issue. However, he added the idea of having the restorative justice program in a location outside of the community would create problems for the people who are participating in its programs.
“We have people who walk to the courthouse for circle,” said Johnson, adding having that in a location farther away would require transportation that would become an issue for many of the people who are being served.
The board did indicate there have been some concerns raised about the $9 million price tag and the tax impact that would have on the county’s residents. Peterson suggested there may be a need to offer some education for the public giving them a chance to see what the need really is in the courthouse and the issues being faced when it comes to security.
Vicki Knobloch, county administrator, advised the board that it might be a good idea to host a meeting between itself, John McNamara of Wold Architects and the employees of the courthouse to talk about the current plans and to listen to the concerns before moving ahead with any further plans.
“This is a building that can’t just meet the needs of the moment,” said Peterson. “What works today might not work tomorrow. Things change. I hope that this is a building that we are not looking at having to update again in another 10 years.”
Lon Walling, county commissioner, said the board needs to and will continue to look at all of its options.
“One year ago we were looking at remodeling the courthouse,” Walling said, adding those prices continued to escalate.
So, the board opted to take a look at the option of building something new, added Walling, who said the initial $9 million price tag was a bit of a shock for the board.
So, it started looking at ways it might be able to cut back. What the board has heard is it might not best serve the county and its residents to make the cuts it has been discussing.
For now the project remains in a holding pattern, as the board continues to consider what is the best solution for the future.
“What is our biggest concern is getting this done right,” said Salfer, adding that probably means it won’t be accomplished in 2019.