City, county officials discuss idea of a new, combined courthouse

By Corene Brisendine

City and county commissioners Thursday raised the possibility of consolidating all court functions into a single new courthouse .

Riley County Commissioner Dave Lewis said the county would like to partner with the city in building a new courthouse in or near downtown. He said doing so would reduce the cost of providing security by having both entities contribute to the cost and by creating a facility with only one public entrance.

City and county officials tossed around several suggestions at their regular city-county meeting, but they agreed a study on the size and scope of the project would need to be done before the question of a site for such a new courthouse could be addressed.

The discussion of constructing a new court facility follows a county commission discussion last week on the topic of a new facility for county offices, with one floor of that new building being reserved for court space. The county is considering creation of a public building commission to provide flexibility in funding such improvements. Lewis said because of requirements of the state’s new law on concealed guns — which include secured entrances — it would be beneficial to the city and county if all court facilities were in one single-entrance location. He said the proposed county building could be modified for that purpose, although if that were done the county would still be seeking more office space.

City Commissioner Wynn Butler said there were several buildings not being fully utilized by both governing bodies. He suggested a new courthouse could be erected at one of those locations while county offices could be relocated into some of those other spaces vacated by the courts or in other under-utilized facilities.

As for the old courthouse, Lewis said the county was considering allowing the Riley County Historical Museum to move into it. It was also suggested that some of the space could be used for offices by the county. The courthouse was constructed in 1905-06, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That designation means that any substantive changes to the building would have to be approved by state and local review boards.

Lewis also brought up the idea of a larger headquarters for the county’s Emergency Medical Service facility. He said the current facility on Claflin Road was inadequate 10 years ago, and the problem has only increased over the years. Butler suggested contacting Mercy Regional Health Center to use some of the space on the vacant top floor. He said the city gave the hospital money to build the expansion and it would be a great place for EMS to relocate. Lewis and others agreed that the EMS headquarters needed to stay at or near the hospital in order to keep that working relationship close.

Officials said EMS also needs more space for its ambulances. City manager Ron Fehr said two of the city’s fire stations, at Grand Mere and at the airport, were designed with the thought of having one of the ambulances at each station, which included additional sleeping quarters for EMS workers.

Lewis said the county was mainly concerned with office space. Butler said while the city understood the need for office space, the city was more concerned with the courthouse and EMS services. He also said county officials could look into using the old courthouse as office space after the courts are moved to a new courthouse.

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