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District court personnel express concerns with architects' designs for court space

When Hubbard County retained the services of architects last spring to design a space plan for future growth, the architects spent much of their time with Hubbard County District Court personnel assessing their needs.

The plan was to relocate the courts to a vacant floor of the law enforcement center, freeing up space for Hubbard County Social Services in the main county office building.

So when presiding District Judge Robert Tiffany sent a recent e-mail to the county board complaining the new quarters would not suit the courts' needs, his communiqué didn't go over well.

In part, Tiffany's e-mail stated: "Given the available square footage and the structural limitations, it may not be possible to design a space for the courts above the LEC that will provide secure and functional access to the court for the citizens of Hubbard County.

"While we obviously would like to have new facilities, we do not wish to see the county invest in new space for the courts unless it would be an improvement over the current physical plant.

"A new court facility should be accessible to the public, user friendly, secure, and functional. It does not appear that such a facility can be configured in the available space above the LEC."

"They sat back and didn't say anything and this comes out of the blue," complained commissioner Cal Johannsen, clearly perturbed. The issue was discussed at the Dec. 16 county board meeting, where the e-mail came to light.

County board chair Lyle Robinson said it may be premature to be upset at the e-mail, especially because the district courts are involved in their own needs assessment determining whether courts should be consolidated into several regional centers.

While he said he doubted Hubbard County's courts would move out of the county, Robinson said it could take years to find the estimated $2 million in financing, retain architects to draft final plans and complete the work on both buildings.

He wants the space built to suit the courts' needs when construction begins, he said.

"It's really not any better than the space they've already got," Robinson said, characterizing the courts' objections.

Commissioner Dick Devine said he wouldn't be in favor of a plan court personnel won't support, "if it's not what they want."

But as the county edges closer to making a decision on whether to embark on the renovations, commissioners want all departments on board with the final plan.

The board discussed the state mandate that it must provide "adequate" space to the courts, which are state institutions. What constitutes adequate, they asked aloud.

It was Tiffany's dissatisfaction with his chambers, courthouse security, inadequate meeting space and the location of the public law library that led in 2008 to the formation of a county building committee to assess the county's space needs. Out of that committee grew the retention of the space needs consultant and report that proposed spending $10 million to alleviate the county's overcrowding.

The county is looking at a pared down version of that plan, moving the courts to the building next door and using the vacant space for the burgeoning Social Services Department.

Tiffany's e-mail didn't shut the door on the possibility of moving into the LEC, however.

"If the Board chooses to relocate the courts above the LEC, we will, of course, work with the architect to realize the full potential of the space," he wrote.

"I was a little disappointed," Robinson said of the e-mail.

"I was, too," Johannsen said. "That firm (the consultants) spent more time with them than anybody else" drafting the space plan to the courts' specifications.

County coordinator Jack Paul has been given the responsibility of trying to find low-interest financing for the project, but said there isn't much available at the present time.