courthouse meeting

Jack Daniels, of MartinRiley architects-engineers, Fort Wayne, speaks to a gathering of the Steuben County Board of Commissioners, members of the Steuben County judiciary and other officials related to court business on Thursday morning. Daniels presented the courthouse study committee with its first look at floor plans for an addition to the Steuben County Courthouse.

ANGOLA — Steuben County officials got their first look at what floor plans of an addition to the Steuben County Courthouse will look like in a meeting Thursday.

Jack Daniels of MartinRiley architects-engineers, Fort Wayne, also provided a look at the potential cost of the facility.

After working with officials who directly work in the courts, Daniels’ team came up with a possible budget of about $13.4 million, not including soft costs. Those could bring the project near the $15 million mark.

Daniels said his team worked to reduce the footprint of the building and remodeling of the historic original courthouse to bring the cost near the $10 million ballpark figure they were given.

“We tried to make some armchair quarterback decisions on our own and reduce down that square footage,” Daniels said. “We cut a lot of things and we weren’t at $10 million and we certainly weren’t meeting (court officials’) needs.”

Judges and other stakeholders in the courthouse originally came up with a request for a new addition of 60,000 square feet. That was decreased to 25,000 square feet then eventually brought back to 35,000 square feet.

The plan is to put the structure directly east of the current courthouse in the courtyard. In doing so, and by creating floors that are no larger than 15,000 apiece, the project will meet Angola zoning setback requirements.

“We’ve got more than enough real estate to do what we need to do so that shouldn’t concern us,” Daniels said.

The building design presented showed three floors and a partial basement. Each of the above-ground floors would be 10,052 square feet. Officials in the room seemed to agree that a full basement should be built to allow for future growth. That would bring the building to about 42,000 square feet.

“Obviously we’re going through a budget exercise and I’m trying to be mindful of the budget,” Daniels said.

If the full basement were constructed, it could possibly accommodate one of the wish of Superior Court Judge Bill Fee, who would like to see the courthouse reverted back to two floors. In 1981, the Circuit Court room was divided into two floors to add space for what was then the Steuben County Court, what is now the Superior Court.

That reduction of space would be close to a wash with the space provided in a full basement.

The original, 1868 courthouse would no longer be used for court hearings; rather, it would be converted to house the many offices related to the courts, including the clerk, prosecutor, probation, community corrections and the like.

In the addition, each floor would include court rooms with seating for 76 members of the public, holding cells segregated by gender, jury rooms with their own restrooms, security, public areas and restricted corridors to keep detainees separated from the public.

The entrance to the building would be through the south side of the addition. The current main entrance would be closed, with the exception of use when election matters, like early voting, are taking place. Public access would be limited.

Commissioner Jim Crowl said security needs would probably increase with the new facility. The current courthouse has two officers stationed at the main entrance.

“Two people cannot handle this security,” Crowl said.

The addition is being considered because the current courthouse does not meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards. There are also many safety concerns and space has become cramped.

The courthouse committee will reconvene in a month to continue working toward the day when construction might commence. Daniels did not give a timeline for the project. And the company has yet to sign a letter of intent with the county to handle the project.

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