Courthouse Annex Proposal Could Ease County’s Space Concerns
By Mike Perleberg
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – The Dearborn County Courthouse was built in 1870 to house one court.
Today, it houses three courts, two clerks offices, records storage, and more. Cubicles spilling out into the courthouse lobby, lack of private meeting space for attorneys and their clients, inmate transport through public areas, and other issues make it apparent to even first time visitors that space for courthouse workers is at a premium.
“During that era, counties built beautiful courthouses that were architecturally ornate and grand as a symbol of county government but not built for the kind of growth and crime rates we see today,” says Dearborn County Administrator Terri Randall.
Now, county leaders are advancing toward the possibility of adding a courthouse annex to the county government square in downtown Lawrenceburg.
The process began in 2004 when county commissioners had an architect analyze space concerns in county buildings including the jail, courthouse, and administration building, according to Randall. County officials knew that when the county’s third court – Dearborn Superior Court II – was established in 2006 that an expansion would be needed.
In 2012, some of the concerns were alleviated when the county purchased the nearby Hoosier Square building in 2012 to serve as the offices for Probation and Community Corrections. But, Randall says, commissioners have continued to have concerns about ADA compliance, fire safety, and limitations to renovating a 144-year-old building.
With the jail expansion expected to wrap up later this year, County Council appropriated up to $250,000 earlier in the year for County Commissioners to hire engineering firm DLZ to study the space issues and possible solutions. Randall says DLZ determined the county needs 37,000 square feet of space for the offices currently in the courthouse to operate safely and efficiently. The courthouse only has 16,000 square feet of functional area.
No potential price tag of the proposed courthouse has been mentioned publicly by county leaders, yet. How such a project might be funded is also a question. For the jail expansion, county council approved usage of$11.5 million of the county’s riverboat savings.
A draft plan of the annex obtained by Eagle 99.3 shows that it could be placed in the parking lot and yard space between the courthouse and the administration building, connecting the two. The front façade would face towards Mary Street.
The draft also shows the Dearborn Super Court I and II courtrooms being relocated to the second floor of the annex, while the Dearborn Circuit Courtroom remains in its current space. The prosecutor’s office would move to cover much of the second floor of the administration building. The county health department, planning and zoning, building department, and veterans services offices would relocate to the original courthouse’s first floor, according to the draft plan.
Randall says the draft design and a budget of an annex addition could be presented by DLZ at an upcoming joint public meeting of county council and county commissioners. A date for that meeting has not been announced. A June meeting was targeted, but that has been postponed, Randall notes.
“The potential project is just that…a ‘potential’ project at this point,” Randall stresses. “Thus, we are in the very early stages of consideration of a courthouse annex. Nothing other than initial drawings and analysis has been funded.”