Madison County Commissioners discuss courthouse renovations

At their regular meeting on Tuesday Madison County Commissioners held a conference call with the architect whose firm was contracted to conduct a feasibility study for expanding the existing county courthouse in Virginia City.

Commissioners requested a developed schedule from the Bill Hanson, president of Think1 architecture and construction management firm in Bozeman, which would outline the necessary steps to prepare for the renovation project.

“In that schedule we can have the major milestones of what we really need to do in the short term and in the long term to get you ready for hopefully a spring of 2013 construction start,” Hanson said.

The need for renovations comes from the lack of handicap accessibility to the courthouse as well as limited space for the clerk and recorders office and a substandard preservation facility for some of the oldest public records in the state.

Proposed solutions to these issues include the installation of an elevator through the main vault in the center of the building and constructing an annex for administrative offices such as the clerk and recorder and treasurer. This would essentially allow for more breathing room in the courthouse including the option to move the justice of the peace from upstairs to the main level or put in handicap accessible restroom facilities.

Commissioner Dave Schulz emphasized that the historic courthouse in its current condition does not comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessible design.

“I guess the way that I best look at this is we’ve still got an obligation to deal with access,” Schulz said. “It’s a legal obligation, and I believe on behalf of our constituency and residents it’s a moral obligation.”

Commissioner Dan Happel said that a previous consideration of building a new jail in Virginia City is not an option at this time.

“We’ve moved away from the idea of building a separate detention facility, at least for the foreseeable future, just because the cost and the fact that voters did not approve that on several occasions,” Happel said.

Hanson explained the results of the initial study for potentially expanding the courthouse.

“What we came to is the site itself really constrained the ability to basically add enough square footage to provide for all of the spaces that were needed for both the county and court operations,” Hanson said. “We really need to get the county government operation out of the courthouse before we can effectively do the renovations to the courthouse. They’re two separate things, but they’re kind of tied together.”

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