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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Courthouse site selected, Shelter From the Storm to move

Courthouse site selected, Shelter From the Storm to move

No one seemed happy about the siting decision for a circuit courthouse. Even Union County Commissioners said they were unhappy with having to demolish a 15-year-old building.

Nevertheless, the decision to site the courthouse where Shelter From the Storm currently sits passed unanimously. That decision will necessitate the demolishing of the building, which Shelter employees moved into in 1998.

During public testimony at the board of commissioners meeting today, concerned citizens said they were worried that this had become an "either or" or "us versus them" situation. Supporters of siting the facility where Shelter sits said they know how valuable Shelter From the Storm's services are.

"I know this has upset a lot of people," said Judge Russ West. "For that I'm sorry, but it's time to face reality."

The reality, West and others said, is that funding for a courthouse may not come to Union County again. In what attendees said was an unprecedented move by the Legislature, the Oregon Judicial Department has guaranteed $2 million for the courthouse that will house two courtrooms, judges chambers, attorney rooms, room for juries and staff area.

Local attorneys testified that the opportunity to build a new courthouse is one that the county cannot let go.

"It's been fairly disastrous to try a case (in the current court facilities)," said David Baum. "I think it's important to not let this opportunity be lost."

Attorney Bruce Anderson said as recently as this morning he dealt with the maze that is the Joseph Building. He went in and out and up three flights of stairs several times in order to meet with Judge West, he said. Anderson added that the county should not break the faith with Shelter From the Storm and should do everything possible to help them with a smooth transition out of their building.

Former commissioners John Howard and Nellie Hibbert also voiced support for moving forward with the project as sited next to the jail. Hibbert said she was "dismayed" that the shelter operations will be interrupted but said commissioners should move forward with the opportunity.

Laura Morgan, financial manger for Shelter, told commissioners that there's a way to solve the problem without piecemealing and said a justice center would be ideal. Other agencies like community corrections, the district attorney's office and others will soon need better facilities as well, she said.

Morgan added that county buildings that have been offered to Shelter would not fit the agency's needs.

David Tift, another Shelter employee, said he was speaking as a private citizen but that he thought the process was flawed and that the situation had boiled down to a "lesser evil" decision. Tift and others said that if agencies worked together, they could find a solution such as a larger justice center, especially since they all have similar goals.

"Services to the community, that's what we're paid to do here," he said.

Other shelter supporters noted that the proximity to the Union County Law Enforcement Building has proven to be an important aspect of the shelter. Officers are called several times a year and the building goes into lockdown, often because alleged perpetrators are lingering outside the building and threatening clients inside.

Following the testimony, commissioners Mark Davidson and Steve McClure said they have had a loved one benefit from Shelter From the Storm services.

"It's vital that (Shelter) continue in this county," Commissioner Bill Rosholt said.

Commissioners vowed to do everything possible to enable Shelter From the Storm to operate uninterrupted. Still, they said they didn't see any other viable options apart from putting the court facility next to the jail. They said they had previously looked into a justice center, but that funding isn't readily available. Several bond levies failed in the 1990s so officials said they were not convinced one could pass now, especially since the La Grande School District is considering levying a bond for facilities.

"I'm not happy about it," Davidson said of the decision. "I really think it's the option we have to pursue.

 
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