Another annex? New study being done on courthouse future

For the fourth time in eight years, a study is being done on making changes to the historic Brown County Courthouse.

This time, the study also will look at building a new, separate county annex building somewhere in downtown Nashville.

Which government offices might operate out of it hasn’t been decided. It’s just one of the “a la carte” options for the future that the courthouse feasibility committee is gathering data on, said committee Chairman Jim Schultz.

“This is a ticking time bomb,” county commissioner Jerry Pittman said of the 143-year-old courthouse in downtown Nashville, which has little to no security and is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We need this study because this will tell us what our needs really are and how they can be met. I think it’s time to move on this before things deteriorate any further.”

annex graphic

Local officials and ad hoc committees have been looking into the future of the courthouse since at least 2009.

Miller Architects gave a preliminary proposal to the county in March 2009 and again in March 2010 about building an addition of about 16,500 square feet onto the back of the courthouse, when the old brick jail was still attached to it. The deteriorating brick jail was demolished in December 2010, leaving a grassy space next to it, but nothing new was built.

The subject came up again in 2012 when the county commissioners hired architect Burt Perdue to do an energy study of the drafty courthouse. That grew into a 62-page, $40,000-plus and more than yearlong study about building a courthouse addition.

The Brown County Commissioners and Brown County Council went ahead with plans to borrow up to $8.25 million to build a 17,400-square-foot addition. But taxpayers soundly defeated that proposal with a remonstrance, and citizen committees began studying other options.

In 2014, courthouse and historic preservation expert James Glass pulled together a comprehensive report about all the options that had been suggested thus far. Those included building an addition, constructing a new building next to the Law Enforcement Center for court-related functions including a new courtroom, or keeping the courthouse as-is and making only emergency fixes.

Nothing major has been done to the historic building since then.

Glass returned to the county this fall to give an updated presentation on options for the courthouse’s future.

His top two suggestions were to make renovations to the current courthouse that would allow court to continue functioning on the second floor for the foreseeable future; or to build a new building somewhere else to house court-related offices, and move real estate-related offices to the courthouse, like the recorder, assessor and auditor.

The recorder, assessor and auditor are currently in the 13,100-square-foot County Office Building at Gould Street and Locust Lane, which opened in 1991. Some occupants of that building have said in past studies that they need more space.

This study’s focus

The new feasibility study the county commissioners approved Oct. 4 will look at the overall future of the county’s justice needs.

Schultz told the commissioners that this study will look at building a new justice center facility and at the use of the current courthouse.

The study would include projections to 2040 of staffing and building needs related to criminal justice, said Charles Day with DLZ. That Indianapolis consulting firm has offered to do the study for $17,250.

DLZ will look at offices in the county courthouse and all related justice offices, including the prosecutor, probation office, Community Corrections, public defenders, Guardian Ad Litem, victim advocates and others.

“I think the study of space needs in this type of proposal is a lot more comprehensive than what we’ve ever had in the past,” commissioner Diana Biddle said.

Funding for the study could come from several places, including the cumulative capital development fund, the county’s ADA-compliant fund or the county’s IT fund that currently has around $90,000 in it. Biddle said there’s also $10,000 in the courthouse budget, but the commissioners prefer to keep money there in case of emergencies.

She said engineering studies have been done in the past on the courthouse, but “that individual was not someone who specialized in justice centers.” DLZ is, Schultz said.

The study fee includes a public presentation to the county commissioners and the county council. It also can include additional presentations if the commissioners want to host them to get public input, Biddle said.

“We want to present everything and we want it to be transparent. Everybody needs to know what we’re doing. There are some naysayers, there always are, some for and some against. We’re going to have to balance all of that, but we’re almost to the point where we can’t waste a lot of time,” said commissioner Dave Anderson.

To consider

ADA and security issues topped the lists of concerns for the commissioners.

“You could probably fix that building and make it work if you wanted to address those two issues,” Schultz said about the current courthouse.

“There’s not a lot of initial money going on with either one of those. There’s more long-term costs probably with the security issue, because you’re going to have additional officers there manning security; the building will go down to one door, on and on and on.”

Biddle said the courthouse has additional spot security for trials but not on a day-to-day basis.

She said another idea behind building a justice center is that “all these different (justice) departments are getting married in terms of grant funding.” About 20 counties in the state that are moving to a justice center complex “because you have all of these court functions spread out all over town,” Biddle said after the meeting.

In Brown County, all buildings where those government functions take place are within 1 mile or less of each other.

At the Oct. 4 meeting, Schultz shared a map that was created by courthouse feasibility committee member Linda Bauer. It shows several “available properties” downtown that might be big enough for a justice center to be built on them.

“We talked about what that would look like if we were to try and fit needs into a downtown scene — in other words, leaving the courthouse where it is, maybe (build) another annex,” Schultz said.

The map of downtown showed four groups of properties ranging from a third of an acre to a little over 1 acre. All of them have buildings currently on them.

Bauer also analyzed what those properties contributed to the tax rolls at this time and what their assessed value — AV — is, which would affect the cost of a justice center project, Schultz said.

Another option the committee is still considering is putting a new building on county-owned land adjoining the Law Enforcement Center.

Money matters

Biddle said she envisions the process of determining the future of the courthouse to take about 12 months.

A $2 million road loan will come off tax bills at the end of 2018. Biddle said that Umbaugh, the county’s financial consultant, said the “ideal time” to bid out a project would be at the end of 2018, get a bond and start construction in 2019.

The county also is considering taking out a capital improvement loan next year to overhaul the countywide public safety radio service, build new bleachers in the grandstands at the fairgrounds and install new lighting at Deer Run Park.

If the county takes out a bond and a capital improvement loan, Biddle said it would be done in a way so that payments on both don’t exceed the million dollars the county will pay toward the road loan next year.

“The goal is to make it property tax-neutral,” Biddle said.

Anderson, a former sheriff, said he has wanted the county to address the courthouse security issues since he became a commissioner.

“It seems like it always gets put on the back burner,” he said.

“We’ve got to do something. Somebody is going to get hurt sometime and we’re pushing our luck.”

Who's where

County government offices operate out of several buildings in Nashville, all within a mile of each other.

COURTHOUSE

Main and Van Buren streets

  • First floor: Probation, county clerk, voting office
  • Second floor: Judge and staff

COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING

East Gould and Locust Lane

  • First floor: Auditor, assessor, treasurer, recorder
  • Second floor: Planning, zoning and building; commissioners; human resources; IT; mapping; health department; surveyor

PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE

Across parking lot from courthouse

  • Prosecutor, deputy prosecutor, child support, victim advocate

VETERANS HALL

Deer Run Lane

  • First floor: Community Corrections
  • Second floor: Veterans Affairs

PARKS AND RECREATION BUILDING

Deer Run Lane

  • Parks department

HIGHWAY BUILDING/RECYCLE CENTER

Old State Road 46 and Greasy Creek

  • Highway department
  • Solid waste management

PURDUE EXTENSION BUILDING

Memorial Drive

  • Soil and water conservation
  • Brown County Purdue Extension

LAW ENFORCEMENT CENTER

55 State Road 46 East

  • Sheriff’s department
  • Jail
  • TRIAD volunteers

EMS BUILDING

53 State Road 46 East

  • Emergency medical services
  • Emergency management

HOME OFFICES

  • Coroner
  • Guardian ad Litem
  • County council
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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.