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Space issues plague courthouse

<i>Jason Schulte photo</i> Departments in the Pierce County Courthouse are full to capacity and leave little room to expand, according to a recent building analysis.

Expansion of departments in the Pierce County Courthouse will likely not happen in the foreseeable future for two reasons: Money, as evident by the budget cuts made last year, and space, as there is hardly any of that, either.

That is the opinion of a recent building summary done by KKE Architects, the architectural firm specializing in interior design and architectural planning. The company, with locations in Minneapolis and throughout the United States, did an overview of the judicial portion of the courthouse.

Some of their overall findings:

  • Many county departments have been "shoe-horned" into spaces that are much too small, with no space for expansion.
  • Inadequate spacing in storing and protecting county records, some of which are confidential.
  • A cramped county board room with lack of public seating and inadequate presentation facilities.
  • Not enough conference rooms on the court floor, which results in attorneys and clients meeting in the stairs or corridors throughout the building.
  • Insufficient electrical power in the courthouse annex to handle data and communications equipment.

    The summary then goes into a breakdown of each judicial department with KKE's concerns.

  • Circuit Court Judge: Changes here could be a springboard to others. With only one jury courtroom, chambers and deliberation room, a second judge will not be appointed, the summary says. To reduce transportation requirements and juror safety, increased video conferencing is recommended, as jurors share the same walking paths as defendants and litigants.
  • Clerk of Courts: Along with the jail, featured in a Journal Web story last week, some of KKE's harshest opinions were for this department. Among them, no physical security or data privacy; insufficient space for court records, which by law must be retained for up to 75 years, and lack of space for case exhibits, copying, printing or storage. KKE recommends one new staff member to scan records to reduce storage space and more if an additional judge would be appointed.
  • Corporation Counsel: Inadequate space for records storage, printing and copying; lack of ability to control people entering office and no dedicated conference space for meetings, personnel matters or negotiations.
  • District Attorney: The divided office spaces are inefficient with regard to work flow and staff communication. No physical security, private space for interviewing witnesses or receptionist for greeting the public. Once again, if a second judge is appointed, one additional attorney and legal secretary would be required, but there is no room to expand.
  • Emergency Management: The EOC room isn't large enough to accommodate the agencies and equipment needed in an emergency. In addition, there is inadequate storage for communications equipment and records.
  • Information Services: The communications room is vulnerable to lightning strikes.
  • Register In Probate: Access to court records is not well controlled and court exhibits are not adequately secured. KKE also feels a conference room is needed so confidential meetings with staff and public can be held.
  • Sheriff's: No off-street parking for patrol vehicles, lack of space for storage of equipment and supplies, along with weapons and ammunition, a separate storage room for evidence in domestic abuse cases, an insufficient number of interview rooms (have two, should have four, the survey said) and no conference rooms for staff meetings or major case investigations.

To address the security issue, Sheriff Nancy Hove said cameras and alarms have been installed throughout the courthouse, which is being monitored by jail and dispatch personnel. She also said this report, which was done to give the county board an update on the courthouse, is presently in the "draft" stage because of the county's financial status.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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