County of­fi­cials view court­rooms Thurs­day evening

Com­mit­tee sees space is­sues close-up

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County’s jus­tices of the peace got a first­hand look at the cir­cuit court fa­cil­i­ties Thurs­day night.

The Com­mit­tee of the Whole took a tour of the county court­house and two nearby build­ings also hous­ing court­rooms and ju­di­cial of­fices.

Cir­cuit Judge Doug Schrantz and four of the other cir­cuit judges briefed the jus­tices of the peace on the daily prob­lems they en­counter with inad­e­quate and ill-de­signed space for those who come to their courts. The judges said the age of the build­ings and the makeshift na­ture of some of the court space present se­cu­rity is­sues and chal­lenges in keep­ing those on op­pos­ing sides of the cases sep­a­rate both in­side and out­side the court­rooms.

“It’s not right,” Judge Tom Smith said. “It’s not right to ask peo­ple to come to a court­house and have kids and other peo­ple un­der great emo­tional stress, for a num­ber of rea­son, go through this.”

Shirley San­dlin, jus­tice of the peace for Dis­trict 8, sug­gested the jus­tices of the peace make ar­range­ments to visit the court­house dur­ing day­time hours so they can get the full ef­fect of what they saw in a pre­sen­ta­tion Thurs­day night. Schrantz and the other judges agreed and some jus­tices of the peace were mak­ing plans to do so in the fu­ture.

Bar­ney Hayes, newly sworn in as jus­tice of the peace for Dis­trict 5, said he hadn’t been to the court­house in many years.

“Since the time I’ve been here the county has prob­a­bly dou­bled or quadru­pled in pop­u­la­tion and that brings more crime and more court cases,” Hayes said. “I think the judges have made a good case tonight that they need bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties. Now we need to get a plan and move for­ward as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

Smith asked the jus­tices of the peace to re­mem­ber what they’ve seen when they’re work­ing on plans for court­house space and not to try to cut cor­ners.

“We need to do it and we need to do it right for the cit­i­zens,” Smith said.

Of­fi­cials have dis­cussed plans for a build­ing to house cir­cuit courts and of­fices for sev­eral years. An ini­tial study iden­ti­fied three sites — two in down­town Ben­tonville and one on South­west 14th Street near the jail.

The con­sul­tants hired by the county ranked pos­si­ble build­ing con­cepts for the sites on 10 cri­te­ria: the

abil­ity to meet the op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments of the courts and re­lated of­fices; se­cu­rity; min­i­mal dis­rup­tion of on­go­ing courts op­er­a­tions; driv­ing ac­cess to the site and traf­fic con­ges­tion; walk­ing ac­cess to the build­ing; walk­ing ac­cess to ameni­ties; con­tex­tual fit of the build­ing with the sur­round­ing area; ex­pan­sion ca­pa­bil­i­ties; con­structabil­ity; and cost.

One of the con­cepts for South­west 14th Street was ranked high­est by con­sul­tants, with one of the North­east Sec­ond Street op­tions a point be­hind. The Op­tion 1 plan on South­west 14th Street car­ries a cost of about $37.8 mil­lion. The Op­tion 4 pro­gram on North­east Sec­ond Street has a cost of about $ 34.5 mil­lion, with about $11 mil­lion in in­cen­tives of­fered by Wal­ton fam­ily in­ter­ests fac­tored in.

The con­sul­tants said in their fi­nal re­port, sub­mit­ted in De­cem­ber, the next steps will be made by of­fi­cials and the Quo­rum Court. These steps in­clude de­cid­ing the lo­ca­tion and size of the project; whether the old post of­fice now used for Cir­cuit Judge Brad Kar­ren’s court is to be de­mol­ished or sold; and the fund­ing mech­a­nism pro­posed by the county.

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