Big decisions loom, but when?
Here we go again. The proposed refurbishing of the courthouse in downtown Corydon and the old jail across the street are about to take center stage again with our elected county officials. But wait. Getting those projects off the ground may be as likely as an animal control facility opening sometime this year. Before Christmas.
The Harrison County Council is again taking the commissioners’ project apart bit by bit, nail by tenpenny nail. That’s OK; that’s expected of our purse keepers. The seven council members were given the chance to scrutinize the proposal at a recent joint meeting with the commissioners and the architect, who explained fairly comprehensively what the project is all about, why it’s needed, how long it will take to get the job done, what it’s expected to cost, and what we will have when the job is done.
While some who attended the meeting felt the questions and answers were reasonable, others clearly got the impression that the two boards are miles apart in what is needed and how much we should spend for it. Sound familiar? Can you say animal shelter?
In this case, it may not be necessary to shelve everything while everyone reaches agreement on the next big step.
Any one of several issues threaten to delay these projects. At issue is whether to add to the Harrison County Justice Center in west Corydon or build a totally new courthouse and turn the one downtown into a museum, or wait until the hospital has its new digs and we can take over the large but empty old one plus its new office building, and whether we need to spend any money on the ancient, ’60s-style jail to make it usable, or sell it, trash it, or give it away.
Unless something is done fairly quickly, a decision on what to do with the old jail won’t be necessary. Ignoring it could take care of the problem because a leaky roof will have damaged its innards beyond repair.
Another issue is whether we would be getting the biggest bang for the buck by not going through the usual bidding process. Under a relatively new state law, only companies that have been pre-approved by the state to ensure energy savings must submit proposals in lieu of bids, so questions about that linger with some.
The bottom line is that most of the courthouse work that is planned would need to be done whether the building remains a courthouse or not, and that’s a subject that’s been bandied about for some time now.
The current renovation plan calls for new, handicapped-friendly restrooms for men and women on the first floor of the 75-year-old courthouse. The women’s would be moved to the east side of the building, where the men’s is now and would remain, hopefully with modern plumbing.
All of the steel frame exterior windows would be replaced with new steel frame insulated glass windows that would match the existing design and color. Cracks in terrazzo floors throughout the building would be repaired along with cracked and damaged plaster.
Currently deficient, the courthouse would be brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The plan also calls for interior upgrades and a modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a new electrical system and lighting, fire alarm system, phone and data wiring, and an electronic security system, including monitors.
The list goes on and on, but, basically, the existing office spaces wouldn’t change drastically. The occupants would. Just how much would depend on whether a decision is made to add on to the Justice Center, which has limited expansion room. A Justice Center annex to the south could be constructed on land already owned for that purpose. In that event, the two buildings could be connected across the road (Commissioners Way) with a skywalk (preferably with moving sidewalks, thank you very much).
The latter could give the courts, law enforcement and support personnel, plus property offices and service agencies enough space for a decade or so, at least, maybe longer. The engineering department would be moved into a newly constructed wing at the highway department.
The old jail apparently can be restored for much less than the $1 million which earlier had council members barricading the county checkbook, so that brings the jail renovation into the realm of possibility. One argument is that the building should be demolished to provide parking for county workers; the other view is to renovate the old jail and use it to store and exhibit records, and add offices for a clerk and computer data management.
Obviously, there is still much thinking to do here, and what the county should do in regard to all this is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the commissioners. Then the council must decide if the costs are in line and whether we should or could afford all or any part of the proposal.