Saline County Board Unveils Conceptual Plan for Courthouse Addition

June 17, 2014 - Wilber, Nebraska - The Saline County Commissioners today revealed a proposed design for a $4.1 million Addition to the historic Saline County Courthouse. The new Addition will satisfy modern requirements for safety, security, and accessibility while maintaining the integrity of the building’s original architecture.

The schematic design for the Addition, unanimously approved at the board’s May 26th meeting, meets the needs determined by county officials last year. These include the installation of an elevator to provide access to all floors of the building, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); the installation of a second staircase and fire exit to comply with current Fire and Safety Codes; improvements for public security; and the construction of new, ADA-compliant public restrooms.

At the outset, it was hoped that the existing space could be renovated and modified, but after an extensive study, a renovation was deemed not feasible. “After consulting with the architect and careful consideration of all our options, we concluded that when considering the weight of all things required of our Courthouse, an Addition rather than a renovation of the existing building, would be a better use of public funds in the long term,” says Commissioner Tim McDermott.

For example, remodeling the existing restrooms to comply with the ADA, on that issue alone, would necessitate a costly plumbing project as it would be necessary to re-pipe the entire building. “To enter the restrooms on the second and third floors, one has to actually step up from the hallway. This design was not unusual at the time the building was constructed. The raised floor actually houses the pipes and plumbing below,” says Jerry Berggren, lead architect for the project. “We realized it would make more sense to construct new, accessible restrooms in an Addition to the building and “repurpose” the restroom spaces in the existing structure.”

The all new plumbing of the Addition will also help alleviate the lack of hot water in the almost 90-year old building. “Cleaning and sanitizing without sufficient hot water has been an ongoing maintenance and health issue,” Commissioner Willis Luedke added.

Aside from making the Courthouse more accessible in compliance with the ADA, the new Addition will address the need for security. Currently, prisoners are held in the public corridor just outside of the County Court. This is the same hallway where the general public waits before entering to take a driver’s license exam. A secured entrance with metal detector/scanner, expanded waiting and thoroughfares, security cameras and other safety measures installed within Courthouse offices would provide increased security, but there is no convenient location to install and monitor the equipment. “Safety and security of the Courthouse, its employees and the public should be a huge priority while redesigning the Courthouse and planning for future security needs”, said Sheriff Alan Moore. “It is very important.”

The Safety Committee documented these deficiencies and many others in its annual report last August. The commissioners also solicited input for the proposed design from all departments, including the offices of Emergency Management and Probation. Those offices, which are currently off-site, would be moved back into the Courthouse after the Addition is completed.

According to Berggren, the new Addition will blend seamlessly with the facade of the Classical Revival-style building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Berggren’s firm, which specializes in historic architecture, has a long-term association with the county and its Courthouse. Its most recent project was the construction of the Veteran’s Memorial completed last June. It is the intent of the County Board to hold informational, Town Hall meetings in more than one location to address constituent concerns and take counsel on those perspectives.

It is hoped residents will better understand the varying issues being corrected with the project and exercise their right to provide comment on all aspects of the building plan and its intended outcome.

If finalized, contractor selection for the new Addition could begin by mid-August, with groundbreaking then projected for October 1. The building would remain open through construction, which is expected to take about 20 months.