Courting a new era: Judicial center project nears completion



As the $12.14 million new judicial center nears completion, a number of Jackson County officials believe it will provide a number of benefits for those who use the local court system.

Among those benefits is improved security for the three courts that will now be housed in the center, which was a priority when the project was adopted.

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Jackson County Commissioner Drew Markel likened the entrance to entering an airport. Visitors will pass through a metal detector to enter and will only be able to access portions of the building.

A control room will allow entrances, hallways, courtrooms and other areas to be monitored throughout the day.

A significant security feature involves the transfer of inmates between the jail and court. In the past, inmates were brought to the courthouse’s rear entrance on Sugar Street and walked up a sidewalk to the back doors of the courthouse.

The new center features a secured sallyport where inmates are brought into the basement in a van and taken upstairs to holding areas and then into court for appearances.

The building also is equipped with secure key entries for officeholders and employees.

“This is an extremely secure building,” Markel said.

Besides security, the center boasts an efficiency the local court system has never seen and is expected to end an era of confusion on which court to visit.

Jackson Superior Court I is located in Seymour, while the circuit court is located in the courthouse in Brownstown. Jackson Superior Court II is located in the courthouse annex, also in Brownstown.

Besides housing the county’s three courts and staff for those courts, the center also will become the home of clerk of the courts offices, including the voter registration office and prosecutor’s office. There’s also space for a fourth court if needed.

The center is located on Sugar Street behind the courthouse and will include 54 parking spaces. The project is being financed with bonds to be repaid through tax revenues.

Jackson County Clerk Amanda Lowery said having the courts in one location will resolve many inconveniences for citizens in Jackson County who use the courts.

Lowery said people are routinely in the wrong location for court appearances or other work they need completed by the clerk’s office.

That problem is amplified since one location is in Seymour, about 9 miles away from the main office in the Jackson County Courthouse.

“It’s almost a daily thing for people to come to the court and find out they’re in the wrong court,” she said.

Jackson Superior Court I Judge AmyMarie Travis said it’s not just the citizens who will benefit from having all of the courts in the same location, but the attorneys who work the cases.

Travis said many criminal attorneys have cases in her court and Jackson Circuit Court, which is presided over by Judge Richard W. Poynter.

Some hearings are scheduled close to each other, and if there is a delay or the hearing runs over on time, the attorney has to call one of the judges to let them know they will be late.

Travis said instead of having to wait for them to drive to Brownstown or Seymour, the attorneys can simply walk down the hallway, she said.

“That’s an advantage,” Travis said.

She said there’s also an advantage when she is conflicted in a case and needs Jackson Superior Court II Judge Bruce MacTavish to fill in for her, vice versa.

“We have to drive back and forth, so filling in can happen with less complications,” she said.

Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant said he looks forward to having all three of his offices at the same location because it helps with coverage and he and his staff can provide more support for the other offices.

While Chalfant looks forward to the advances of the court, like stronger security, which he said was “long overdue,” he will miss the allure of the courthouse.

“I love our courthouse, its history and atmosphere,” he said. “I’m proud of our courthouse.”

Markel said he’s not sure of a timeline for when the center will be completely occupied, but it won’t be long before the process of moving the courts will start.

Markel said it’s estimated it will take about a month to complete the move because the courts will not be moved into the center at the same time.

He said it is anticipated that the move of each court will take about two weeks.

The project began with a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2017, although planning for the project started nearly a decade ago shortly after Jackson Superior Court II opened Jan. 1, 2008.

Finding a permanent home for Jackson Superior Court II, which has been housed in a meeting room at the courthouse annex, was one of original reasons behind the push for a judicial center.

Markel said he is confident the project is going to come in well within budget.

“It’s probably going to be pretty impressive when it’s done,” he said of the project’s cost.

At this time, the punch list process has begun.

“We’re just trying to wrap up some of the finishing,” Markel said. “They go room by room checking out everything.”

Topsoil has been put in place, and landscaping should begin with the next two weeks, he said.

There also is a secure connection between the center and the courthouse annex. The public defender’s office will move to the current prosecutor’s office in the courthouse.

The center also has attorney suites for meetings between lawyers and their clients.

As part of the process, officeholders were consulted to gather input about their needs.

“I think this building was built to maximize a support staff for this building,” Markel said. “We should be able to do that.”

High-speed internet services for the center are being provided by Jackson Connect, a division of Jackson County REMC and Bedford Office Supply is supplying the furniture. N-I-Tech LLC of Brownstown, a network infrastructure company, also has been involved in the project.

Local partnerships were an important part of the construction process, Markel said.

He said the internet connections and phone lines are live and ready to be put into use.

He said one of the main goals of the construction process was to get a high-quality product for the people of Jackson County. It’s also a building that will stand the test of time, he said.

The project was initially projected to be completed in late summer. In fact, the original substantial completion date was Sept. 15.

That doesn’t mean it is done, but it does mean it is ready for occupancy, Markel said.

“We don’t want something that is just shoved along and gotten done just to get it done on a certain date,” he said.

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