Over the past year, the topic of the Courthouse Addition had been discussed and many questions asked regarding the purpose, plan and advancement of a decision to construct this Addition onto the historic Saline County Courthouse in Wilber. The following have been replied to frequently and are hoped to be answered adequately. The County Board, Elected Officials or Architect will continue to field additional questions and thus included below as a shared answer to all. An invitation for further inquiry is extended here.
The original building stone is Carthage Marble, quarried near Carthage, Missouri. That quarry no longer produces building stone. There are several options which are available and the final building stone will be selected based upon appearance, durability, availability and cost. Regardless of the masonry material finally selected, color samples will also be required before the material is ordered.
Yes, the windows are a recent installation and should be easily removed and reinstalled where needed. There are not enough salvage windows to fill all of the new openings but because they are relatively new, matching them will not be a problem.
The topographic & boundary survey will soon be available. However, from previous documents it appears that there will be about 78 feet from the existing north face of the building to the sidewalk along -- West 2nd Street. Currently the Addition is expected to add 44’ 8”, leaving 33’ 4” from structure to sidewalk.
The decision to place the Addition on the north rather than the south was primarily based on the arrangement of the interior offices. The two primary functions of the Addition are the installation of an elevator to serve all floors and a second exit (stairway) from all floors to comply with the Fire & Life Safety Code. Both of these features must be tied together with the existing public corridors serving the building.
As we studied the various options for the location of the Addition, it became apparent there was not proper separation of the parties utilizing the District Court on Third Floor. The Judge, Bailiff, and Court Reporter are somewhat separated from the public, but the jurors and detainees are not. Further, the jurors and detainees should not be comingled as they are currently. The staff of the District Court Office needs to be easily accessed by the public, as they are currently.
If an Addition were constructed on the south side of the Courthouse, this access would expose more of the judicial staff to the public and not improve the separation of jurors, detainees and the public.
However, as we studied the space, a major improvement for separation and security is to move the Jury Deliberation room to the southwest corner of Third Floor and move the District Court Offices closer to the new elevator location. Then, by creating a new public access point to the District Courtroom at the north end of the courtroom, the resulting arrangement allowed us to develop the current public corridor as a secure corridor for sensitive trials.
As the rearrangement of Third Floor developed, we also recognized that an Addition on the north of the Courthouse was actually closer to the existing ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) parking area.
In addition to the above considerations, the Courthouse has three existing, ornate entrances; two utilized regularly on the east and west and one on the south used less frequently. The one on the south provides direct access to the Assembly Room. This space is used for after-hours meetings and other larger group functions. If an Addition were constructed on the south, it would not only hinder access to this room, but the connecting corridor would also bisect the room, rendering it useless for assemblies. With the Addition located on the north, the Assembly Room remains available for its original purpose, and with a relatively simple change of door hardware, the room is available after-hours without allowing access to the rest of the Courthouse.
The concept of providing a community tornado shelter was not part of the original program. Currently, when a storm threatens the site, staff and patrons are directed to the vaults on first floor for shelter. All of the vaults are totally interior to the structure, or if they have an exterior wall with windows, the windows are fitted with heavy steel shutters on the interior. These spaces will remain available as staff and patron emergency shelters.
Also, the Emergency Command Center relocated to the basement will be designed to withstand severe storm conditions. The details of that space are currently being developed and there may be some space set aside for an emergency shelter in that room or other spaces in the basement.
The original building is cast in place concrete post & beam construction with cast-in-place concrete floors. It is one of the most durable construction systems ever used. The Addition will have a cast in place concrete foundation surrounding the basement. We are considering utilizing the same wall system to surround the County Courtroom directly above the Emergency Command Center to create acoustical separation from the other interior spaces and the exterior. This may also serve as a storm shelter in times of emergency.
In addition to these probabilities, we will continue to look to provide emergency shelter alternatives in regard to safe-haven locations during severe weather while patrons visit or conduct business in the Courthouse.
The capacity of the elevator will be not less than 2500lbs of live load. The primary use of the elevator will be for the public. However, pads for the walls may be ordered as an extra cost accessory to protect the finishes if it will be used for freight.
It is our every intent that the Courthouse will remain open for regular business hours during construction. The contractor will be instructed to schedule any activity which might disturb court proceedings to a time when the courts are not in session. When the county court office and courtroom are being renovated, we can anticipate the County Court utilizing the District Courtroom when the court schedules permits.
There will be interruptions during construction. To the greatest extent possible, interruption in electrical power will be scheduled outside of normal business hours. Interruptions in service for the public will be kept to a minimum. When existing offices are scheduled for renovations that take more time to complete, accommodations will be made to ensure that business continues.
Large areas of the Courthouse lawn will be set aside as a staging area for the contractor’s construction trailer, storage of construction materials and a delivery area to receive those materials. Another option may be to secure a parking area away from the site for construction workers.
UPDATE: The County Board fully understands that parking is often an issue. Recent developments have led to the acquisition of two neighboring properties just to the north of the Courthouse and new Addition. Attached to the bond funding for the construction project is a plan to raze those properties and surface the area with suitable parking for 43 vehicles.
Courts do cost money and every effort is being made to create efficient spaces for the courts to function. Technology has helped to improve the courts’ functions and, when appropriate, technology via video conferencing is currently being used.
While technology is increasing, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that individuals must make a personal appearance in the County Court on all non-waiverable Misdemeanor cases, Pre-Bindover Felony Cases, Civil Trials, Traffic Trials, Juvenile Cases, Adoptions, and Formal Probate proceedings. The Court must also maintain its records for those cases. All of this combined requires space beyond what is available in the Law Enforcement Center. Unfortunately, with the growth of Saline County, our County Court docket has also grown exponentially.
It has also been the position of the County Court that there are many areas lacking as identified by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Policy and by the Rules of the Supreme Court of Nebraska. Those areas need to be addressed when moving forward with the project.
The County Court is a State Agency within the scope of the Judicial Branch of State government. All changes, upgrades and advancements in Technology are made at the Supreme Court and Legislative Levels and then referred down to the County Court to implement.
The Court system has grown primarily because of the increasing case load that each court must process. Technology has helped to speed up the process. The footprint of the Courthouse is much more the result of the necessity to maintain records of the court proceedings. In the future, some records of court proceedings may be retained in digital format. However, physical evidence related to court proceedings must remain in its original form. Storage of records and evidence, and space for additional staff to manage the volume of cases, is the primary reason for maintaining or increasing space for the courts, as opposed to a reduction in space.
The census is recorded every 10 years. In 1920, Saline County had a population of 16,514. In 1930, the population was 16,536. The most recent census, 2010, recorded a population of 14,200. According to U.S. Census, the most recent population estimate was recorded for 2012 and totaled 14,557 people.
Population figures play an important role in providing services to County residents and other useful determinations. Yet we must also take into account the amount of services being provided when comparing those vastly different time periods. Increased licensing, regulatory responsibility and amplified demands brought on by the increase in State mandated functions all play a role in the functionality and need pressed upon our County and its courthouse.
The County probation office houses officers from multiple counties. We have an agreement with those other entities to share in the costs of office space, utilities, salaries and other communal necessities associated with this office.
Perhaps the figure of $250,000 was taken from an earlier figure of roughly $200,000 to replace/update the waterlines and other plumbing issues in the Courthouse building. One has the smallest impact on the other, yet doesn't begin to tell the entire store. To better understand the entirety of the project and the collective needs being addressed with the new Addition, please see the Project Overview and Plan Concept page for an enhanced explanation.
This is a question the County Board has investigated when weighing its decisions to continue forward with the project with or without an election. The Commissioners looked intently into the scope of its budgeting authority in Nebraska Revised Statute 23-120. The statutes provide legal indications of the responsibility to provide suitable Courthouse, Jail, and other County buildings for such governmental purposes and to borrow money and issue bonds of the County to pay for them when indications warrant. Given the entirety of the project task in addressing outcomes considered necessary, the Board, exercising its prerogative within the margins of legal interpretation, will move forward with the Courthouse Addition without a planned election.
This idea was discussed at length by the Board, staff and project committee. There was found no cost efficient or viable gain in altering every Courthouse office to the extent of providing an equal or better benefit. The relocation and additional renovation costs involved in shuffling the entirety of the Courthouse inhabitants is ineffective. In addition, the elevator installation provides the easiest access to all offices on any upper floor thereby alleviating this added expense.
As a matter of course, those issues will be addressed as construction and renovation provide opportunity, and where electrical code and need dictate.
It should be mentioned here that Arraignment of Inmates is a VERY small part of what the County Court does. Example questions are asked, “…if the County Court were moved to the law enforcement center, would individuals want to go there for a civil issue”? Or, “…would they want to have to go to a Law Enforcement Center to handle the Probate of a loved one’s estate”?
Even so, this concept was discussed in the early development stages of planning. While it is a valid consideration, and one broadly discussed, it was found to again be cost prohibitive. Preliminary cost estimates had shown that providing the same square footage of a new Judicial Center relative to County Court, District Court, Probation and the County Attorney’s office space, would cost $7,250,000 plus a possible land purchase. While it is always possible to build a ‘budget minded’ building, there would remain a still unfinished renovation yet to be accomplished at the Courthouse. The cost of this renovation would be in addition to the new building project in the vicinity of the County Jail, if that were to be the option.
Additional estimates place the entire replacement of the current Courthouse building on another location in combination with the Jail and Judicial Center, to be roughly $10,000,000 to $13,000,000; plus possible land purchase, plus all post construction costs associated with any decision on the current Courthouse building.
The County will use Inheritance Tax revenue presently in reserve while the bulk of the remaining balance will be derived from the sale of General Obligation Bonds.
Early estimates place the burden of taxes upon the annual repayment of these bonds at approximately 2.4¢ per $100.00 of assessed property valuation; or $24.00 per $100,000.00 of assessed valuation. (These estimates will be updated when the budgeting process is complete.)
Certainly the addition of the elevator and secondary exit route from the building are important elements to the planned project. But, this accessibility enhancement represents but a portion of the overall criteria when addressing issues needing attention in this historical building. This question would best be answered by reviewing the Project Overview and Plan Concept page for an enhanced explanation.
The included elevator will allow easy accessibility to all levels of the Courthouse; from the basement to the upper 4th floor. The entrance and exits will also be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) enhanced. In addition, there will be ADA compliant restroom facilities on each level.