City and county seek new courthouse and police station

Michelle Bair

Kevin Poland, Portage County Municipal Court judge, said aesthetically, he likes the old architecture of the current courthouse, but functionally, it has served its purpose.

Poland said the facility is insufficient in size and inadequate on many levels. He said it doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the security is nowhere near what it should be.

“We should not have victims and defendants sitting on the same bench,” Poland said. “The prisoners walk in the same door as staff, and there is no secure area for victims of domestic violence.

“The girls who work in the clerk of courts are literally sitting on top of one another, and there is nowhere for attorneys and clients to meet,” Poland said.

In addition, there is a leaking roof and flooded basement.

“It is time to move on to a building that is functional, dignified and also efficient,” Poland said.

Garret Ferrara, Ward 1 Kent City Council member, said the police department has similar struggles.

“There was a presentation made to council explaining the status of how crappy the police station is, and we do have a problem (with) it,” Ferrara said. “It is outdated and the ceiling leaks.”

William Lillich, Kent’s Safety Director, said the core section of the police station has been in existence since 1923 and was originally built as a fire station.

“The citizens need to know how deteriorated this building is,” Lillich said.

Ferrara said the jail doesn’t meet federal standards for transferring inmates and food service.

“If we ship prisoners to the county jail, it bills us, so it becomes an added expense there also,” he said.

Lillich said the Kent jail is too small. It doesn’t have proper lighting and a variety of other standards that the city has not yet been held to.

“State corrections people have given us a grandfather exemption,” Lillich said. “But we are pretty uncomfortable with that because it doesn’t last forever.”

Because both buildings are in such poor shape, there was a proposal for a joint county-city facility that includes the courthouse, jail and police department, but it fell through before Poland came on as a judge.

Ferarra said that economically, it would make sense to have all three in one place.

“But politically, it is not going to happen,” he said. “I think that burden, in my opinion, falls on the county bailing out.”

Poland said there is no use in pointing fingers, and he was not involved, but the joint facility would have been at least 50,000 square feet, which makes for challenging site selection and development funds.

“They spent three years trying to work a joint project, and it did not go forward for whatever reason,” he said. “My position is the court cannot wait.”

At this point, there will not be a combination of a courthouse and police department, but the city and the county are in the process of selecting sites for new facilities as separate projects.

“The bottom line is we are committed to complete this project in a cost-effective manner,” Poland said. “The longer we wait, the more expensive materials will be. I hope to have a site selected within the next few months.”

Lillich said Portage County is a unique hybrid of municipal court.

“There is only a few of them in the state where the municipal court is countywide rather than just serving an individual city,” he said.

The charter for the county says a courthouse has to be in the cities of Kent and Ravenna.

Lillich said the new facility will have sheltered parking areas to keep cars out of bad weather, and it will be an appropriate venue for council meetings to take place.

“It will also have an extended jail facility way beyond what we have now, which is willfully inadequate,” Lillich said.

Lillich said they would also need to come up with a source of revenue to pay the bonds.

“We are still refining the site selection,” Lillich said. “We’ve got schematic diagrams of the space needs within the building which is necessary to decide how much space and property you would need.”

Contact Michelle Bair at [email protected]