Updating the courthouse

Madison County Commissioners met with outgoing District Court Judge Loren Tucker, Clerk of District Court Diane Kaatz and Sheriff Roger Thompson on Friday, Jan. 6 to look at blueprints of the intended renovations to the historic Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City.

“We need to be concentrating on safety,” said district three commissioner Jim Hart.

The renovation project stems from a continued discussion to address safety and accessibility of the courthouse, and to make the historic building ADA compliant. In order to do so, the use of an elevator has been drafted into four separate floor plans for the building – now the commissioners must choose one.

The courthouse, originally built in 1875, served as the home for most county offices until the recent completion of the administrative building, which sits directly across the street. Now the sheriff’s office and district and justice courts are located in the building.

With concerns of transporting prisoners safely to the courtrooms while keeping them separate from the public, to how to least disturb the operations of the court, four plans were narrowed down to two.

Aside from agreeing on a floor plan, the biggest obstacle commissioners face is how to deal with the building’s history and, despite no obvious way to avoid altering its historical significance, how to least disrupt the history behind the building.

“We’re dealing with a very old, historical building and we’re not going to get everything we want,” said Judge Tucker. “I recognize that is a problem.”

Esthetics aside, all agreed safety of county workers, the public and those being detained was most important when deciding how to proceed. While an elevator might not be ideal for the building, it is the best and safest way to transport detainees from the sheriff’s office, located in the basement, to either justice court on the first floor or to district court on the second floor, and to keep detainees from mingling with the public.

Another issue in the renovation process is the technology, such as a portable teleconference device, that is often used during hearings and trials.

“I realize this is a poor substitute for presence but this is what we have to work with and those doggone things can be pretty touchy,” said Judge Tucker, referring to constantly moving the technology and its operating system.

“My main concern is safety and we’re trying to squeeze in as much as we can into a building that was never intended for this when it was built,” said Sheriff Thompson.


Cost and timeline

Originally, the project was estimated to cost $800,000 – but that was five years ago when the project was first introduced.

“We don’t know what the cost will be and I think that’s what is a little scary to us,” said commissioner Ron Nye. “Not only that, but do we have that money available right now?”

Until there is a conclusion on which plan will best suit the courthouse and its workers while serving obvious safety needs, the discussion will continue with the hope work can begin immediately following a decision.

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