Supervisors hear plan for new judicial center

Just last week, Custer County celebrated the centennial of its courthouse. While county officials all share a sense of pride and heritage in the history of the courthouse, they also realize the old building in its current state no longer effectively meets the needs of its users. Tuesday morning, the Custer County Board of Supervisors were presented with a couple of possible solutions to those issues. At about the time of the dedication of the Mid Plains extended campus, several businessmen (who are members of CEDC) approached the Governor, and requested a meeting with the Governor or Chief Justice. The topic of this meeting was the creation of a new judicial facility that would upgrade the county’s ability to take care of the Custer County needs, but be designed to adequately handle a regionalized, or multi-county, judicial facility if that were to occur in the future. Shortly after this meeting with the Governor and Chief Justice, the CEDC approached the County Board and requested permission to work on the development of a new judicial facility. The Board noted that they were already in the process of doing some investigation regarding the revamping of the current courthouse, but did not object to the CEDC working on a parallel or alternative solution. CEDC then formed a task force to look at the situation. Members of that task force are Juliana Jenkins, chairperson, John Sennett, Jason White, RJ Thomas, Jerry Adams, Dan Osmond, Tami Schendt, and County Supervisors Mark Haynes and Ran Varney. Some of the major issues facing the current courthouse are lack of space, lack of security and limited ADA accessibility. The CEDC funded the expense of an architect/engineer to help try to design a new facility that could resolve these issues and meet current and future needs. The committee met on numerous occasions, and numerous drafts of a new facility were reviewed and discussed. These drafts were then referred to the Supreme Court and reviewed by the courts “reengineering” committee. Suggestions made by the court were then incorporated into the proposed plan and a final draft of the plan was developed by the local task force. That plan was presented to the Board for consideration at the Tuesday meeting. Jenkins and Sennet gave the presentation to the Board. “Some people may be wondering why the CEDC would get involved with this, that it is a county issue. We believe having a viable courthouse here is an economic matter,” Sennett explained. Architect Larry Nelson, who also designed the college, was hired by the CEDC. His design includes large multi-use spaces for public hearings and meetings, several small meeting rooms and two large clerks offices providing access to the public and to the court rooms. Security was also a key issue of the discussion. Where the current courthouse has virtually no security, the plan for the new facility would include security for the court rooms and the judges chambers. Custer County Sheriff Dan Osmond, a member of the task force committee, has expressed concern about bringing prisoners in for court through the same entrance as used by the general public. The new design would create a separate entrance for the prisoners. “We have just been lucky that nothing bad has happened so far,” said Sennett. The design for the new facility is for a 16,800-square foot single story building. The committee presented two options for location of the judicial facility, both on the Custer Campus. Option A would locate the judicial center on the northwest corner of the already developed property, directly north of the Heritage Bank/USDA building. This plan includes the possibility of the future building of a law enforcement center (jail) across the parking lot to the west of the judicial center. Option B would locate the judicial center on the yet undeveloped property, between the Heritage Bank/USDA building and Trotters. This plan would allow for the possible future building of a law enforcement center on the south end of the judicial center, and connected to the judicial center by a corridor. The committee also presented some funding options for the project to the Board, which would allow for the building of a facility without having to seek a bond, by using local financial institutions as a resource. The projected cost of the project would be about $4.5 million. Supervisor Haynes commended the task force for their work on this project, and said he believes this is a good plan. “This is definitely something we need to look at and consider,” said Larry Hickenbottom, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “I would really like to see us keep the court system here rather than going somewhere else.” The Board took no action on the plan at this time.