Courthouse And Safety Center

The Public Safety Center, built onto the Clay County Courthouse approximately 30 years to house offices of the Clay County Sheriff's Department and the Vermillion Police Department, is providing challenges to both departments, according to Vermillion Police Chief Matt Betzen. Monday he told the Vermillion City Council his department needs the accommodations that would be provided by a new law enforcement that would be constructed along with a new jail and courthouse if voters approve a $41 million bond issue in June.

The Save Our Historic Courthouse Committee in Vermillion has announced plans for a public discussion on the upcoming $41 million courthouse bond issue. The event will be at the 4-H Fairground Building at 7 p.m. on May 12.

The public discussion, called Coffee and Conversation, will be an informal round table discussion of both the Clay County Commission’s proposal and reasoning for the bond issue, as well as the concerns and opposition being raised by county residents.

“We know there are considerable concerns with the bond issue and that voters are discussing how Clay County should solve the problems that have been identified, especially the need to upgrade or replace the jail,” said former mayor and committee member Dan Christophersen. “It’s equally important that the current courthouse building is not abandoned.

“We strongly favor restoring and upgrading our courthouse, and we need to take a serious look at dealing with the jail issue as soon as possible,” he said. “However, we question how a multimillion-dollar bond issue, that includes walking away from our historic courthouse building and building all new somewhere else, is the right thing to do.”

Committee members last week announced six major alternative considerations that favor restoration and continued use of the 1912 historic building. Part of the proposals include the creation of a new jail and law enforcement center on the current site, upgrades including courthouse electrical and mechanical improvements as well as a modest multi-level addition to the north entrance that would include a new elevator and handicap accessible restrooms.

Suggestions also contain a number of options for space re-allocation that include eventually moving some of the courthouse offices into the current law enforcement center. An incremental improvement plan for offices in the courthouse building has also been suggested.

The alternatives advocate for a roof repair or replacement and exterior tuck pointing and cleaning that has been long overdue. In recent action the County has finally moved to consider bids for such work, according to a news release from the County last week.

“We simply believe that a more practical plan should have been considered before they floated a $41 million dollar bond issue that would fund what appears to be a plan with few details at an undisclosed site,” said Art Rusch, a former judge who had his office in the courthouse for 30 years.

“It’s a plan that appears to be an overbuild, judging by the square footage in their proposals. These and several other concerns and questions will be included in our May 12 meeting. We hope voters will take part of an evening off and join us,” he said. “It will be one of the first opportunities voters will have had to be involved.”

A lack of public involvement has also been one of the committee’s criticisms.

The Save Our Historic Courthouse Committee is encouraging voters from across Clay County to attend. “This is a countywide issue that affects all taxpayers so we hope rural residents will join in the discussion on May 12 as well,” said Christopherson.

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