Union County commissioners are exploring the idea of vacating K Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets as part of the county’s new courthouse project. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
While the prospect of a new courthouse is a dream come true to those who have worked toward it for years, others are not so thrilled about it.
“We are pretty anxious,” said Teresa Crouser, director of Shelter From the Storm.
Union County officials have been eyeing the location where the shelter currently sits.
“We were notified on Jan. 15 and asked to vacate the building this June, which is a very short time frame for the type of services we provide,” Crouser said.
The Department of Justice contract signed by the county in January stipulates that the new courthouse facility be on the county campus and lays out tight deadlines for getting that accomplished. A site plan must be ready by October of this year for construction to begin by October 2015.
“We’re in a really difficult situation,” Crouser said. “We’re concerned about our shelter, but we also see the need for a new courthouse.”
The shelter director said she would like to explore others options with the county, including a larger family justice center.
In a list of options discussed at the Wednesday Union County Board of Commissioners meeting, though, such a center was not on the table.
County Planning Director Hanley Jenkins went over seven options, ranging from razing the shelter building to purchasing land north of L Avenue to fitting a new courthouse facility somewhere else on the county campus.
The $3.1 million project is funded in part by the state. The 2013 Legislative funding, along with the DOJ contract, secured $2 million while the county is covering the balance.
Court employees have long dealt with problems at their current location in the Joseph Building. They have cited inefficiencies as they are split on the first and third floors. Judges Russ West and Brian Dretke have noted the columns in courtrooms block their view and allow people to hide in the courtrooms. Employees have also raised security concerns with the current court facility.
It’s clear that solutions, even for a new building, don’t come easy.
Another issue raised at the commissioner meeting was parking and city development standards as they are involved with the new courthouse’s construction.
The officials noted that they may need to apply for variances if they cannot meet City of La Grande parking standards. They are also exploring the idea of vacating K Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets. Both processes could take several months.
County commissioners on Wednesday said, noting the time constraints, that they want to make a decision at their next meeting, on March 5.
“I understand the importance of the shelter,” said Commissioner Steve McClure. “It’s some tough decisions we have to make.”
The plan: Site Circuit Court east and north of the Union County Board of Commissioners building.
The result: This would leave the Shelter From the Storm building intact. However, the east lawn is not large enough for a 13,000 square foot building and this option would eliminate 32 new parking spaces. This wouldn’t provide a linkage with the Union County Jail.
The plan: Site Circuit Court in Shelter From the Storm’s current location, move Union County Board of Commissioners and administrative services into the Joseph Building and move the shelter into the commissioners’ building.
The result: This would move the shelter, but keep it on the county campus. However, the commissioners’ building is not handicap accessible and costs to move administrative services, including the mainframe computer, are high. The shelter would also have to pay utility costs because they are separate from the Joseph Building.
The plan: Site Circuit Court where the commissioners’ building sits.
The result: This would keep the shelter on campus and intact. However, the location would not provide linkage to the jail and building removal costs would be high because of asbestos and having to move the mainframe computer.
The plan: Site Circuit Court between shelter and jail.
The result: This leaves the shelter intact and would provide linkage from jail to court. However, there is only 84 feet between the buildings, about 40 parking spots would be lost and would be aesthetically unattractive due to “cramming” of the buildings.
The plan: Build a two-story Circuit Court anywhere on campus.
The result: This would leave a smaller footprint and possibly allow for the shelter to remain intact. However, it could substantially increase construction costs and long-term maintenance costs because two elevators would need to be installed. Court employees have said a multi-story facility creates inefficiencies. Also 18 or more parking spaces would be lost.
The plan: Site Circuit Court on shelter footprint.
The result: This would provide for a single-story building, which is the cheapest alternative. This choice maximizes parking opportunities and traffic circulation while also providing linkage from jail to court. However, this means Shelter From the Storm would have to move from its current location.
The plan: Shelter From the Storm moves into Waller’s Block (north of L Avenue).
The result: This would provide the shelter with its own property while still being next to Union County and law enforcement buildings. It would also provide an opportunity to purchase three rental housing units. The court could be sited on the current shelter building’s footprint. However, the property would need to be purchased.