Courthouse review set
Presentation planned for new JPs Quorum Court changes
BENTONVILLE — Benton County’s justices of the peace will resume discussion of a county courts building at a special meeting tonight.
Joel Jones, justice of the peace and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said he’ll have an hourlong presentation on the project for the seven new justices of the peace who began serving their terms in January.
The Committee of the Whole meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Quorum Courtroom at the County Administration Building.
“I don’t think we’re back at square zero,” Jones said. “I know that some of the new JPs have been attending some of the meetings and trying to keep up. Then we had the tour of the courthouse after the last Committee of the Whole meeting. I think the Benton County’s Quorum Court has seven new members this year among the 15 justices of the peace. Since 2000, the Quorum Court has had five new justices of the peace on four occasions, including 2013 when the body expanded from 13 members to 15 as a result of the 2010 census.
judges did a good job showing the need. That’s step one. If that didn’t cement that in everybody’s minds, maybe Tuesday night will.”
County officials have discussed plans for a building to house circuit courts and related offices for several years. The county’s six circuit courts are spread among four locations. Three are housed in the county courthouse built in 1928. Other sites include two other buildings in the downtown Bentonville area and at the Juvenile Justice facility on Melissa Drive.
An initial study finished in January 2014 identified three sites: two downtown and one on Southwest 14th Street near the jail.
A second study completed last year by the county’s consultants — Perkowitz. Ruth, Cromwell and Dewberry — presented six building options, with two options on Southwest 14th Street, one for property behind the courthouse and three options for property on Northeast Second Street, just off the downtown square.
One of the concepts for Southwest 14th Street was ranked highest by the consultants, with one of the Northeast Second Street options close behind. The Option 1 plan on Southwest 14th Street will cost about $37.8 million. The Option 4 program on Northeast Second Street will cost of $ 34.5 million, with about $11 million in incentives offered by Walton family interests factored in.
Walton family interests have supported plans to keep the court and related offices downtown. The Walton Family Foundation made a $2.8 million grant available to renovate the courthouse and to buy land on Northeast Second Street. The Waltons also have indicated they’ll build a parking garage on Northeast B Street, near the downtown sites, and make space available for county and courts-related parking if the courts stay downtown.
County Judge Barry Moehring hopes the tour and special meeting on the courts project can get the county moving on the project.
“I’m hoping to come out of that meeting with a gauge of how quickly we can move forward,” Moehring said. “You have to give the new JPs time to get settled in if they want it. There’s no action items on the agenda.”
Barney Hayes, who was sworn in as justice of the peace on Feb. 16, said he welcomes the briefing.
“I’ve kept up with it, but when you’ve actively involved in a project you know more about it,” Hayes said. “There’s probably things I don’t know and it will be good to get up to speed.”
Bob Bland, another new justice of the peace, has attended meetings, including many about the courts project, for most of 2016. Bland has toured the buildings after hours on two occasions, but he recently visited the courthouse during a busy day and said that reinforced the need for a courts facility in his mind.
“It’s one thing to see it after hours,” Bland said. “But to go there during a court day and see the overcrowding and what looks like confusion and disorganization, even though they’re organized as best they can, it’s shocking. It’s really bad and we need to get it done.”