reviewed City and County Seek New Sites for Public Buildings

Michelle Bair

Kevin Poland, Portage County Municipal Court Judge, said that aesthetically, he

likes old architecture.

“But functionally, it has served its purpose,” he said, in regards to the courthouse.

According to Poland the facility is insufficient in size, and willfully inadequate on many

levels. He said it does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the security is

nowhere near where it should be.

“We should not have victims and defendants sitting on the same bench, the prisoners

walk in the same door as staff and there is no secure area for victims of domestic violence,” Poland said. “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.”

On top of that, 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.

According to Ward 1 Council Member Garret Ferrara, the struggles are similar at the police department.

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 “It is outdated and the ceiling leaks.”

Kent Safety Director William Lillich said the core part 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,” he said.

Ferrara said the jail does not meet federal standards, such as 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 does not 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.”

Since both buildings are in such poor shape, there was a proposal for a joint county-city facility, but it fell through before Poland came on as judge.

“The original plan was to combine a courthouse with the safety-administration building including the jail, police department as well as Kent State Police,” Ferrara said. “The idea was a facility that you could get cost savings out of with grants and the joint-use method. The county was involved via the courthouse aspect of it, and somewhere came a significant dollar figure of combining all three. The county backed out of it.”

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, challenging site selection and funds of development.

“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.”

According to Poland, a special-projects fund through court costs was created years ago, so the new courthouse will not be funded by tax-payers.

He said the proposed new structure for the courthouse is approximately 25,000 square feet with parking and necessary items that go with it. Coming up with viable sites and considering costs are the county’s main focus right now.

“We are certainly not looking to build Taj Mahal,” Poland said. “We look for ways to scale down the proposal and increase efficient use for space we have.”

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

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

The charter for the county says that a courthouse has to be in the city of Kent as well as in the city of Ravenna.

In regards to the city police department, Lillich said that the facility will include a training room that is adequate enough to hold respectable-sized public meetings.

“It will also require quite a few offices,” he said. “We will have an investigation section, a services section, a communications section and storage areas for records and evidence”

Lillich said the new facility will have parking areas under a roof to keep the 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,” he said. “Way beyond what we have now, which is willfully inadequate.”

Lillich said in terms of location, the city has done an extensive evaluation of 11 potential sites in town.

“We have been working at narrowing the sites down by virtue of the list of criteria we rated them on,” he said. “And we continue to do that now.”

According to Lillich, the cost for the new facility will be around $15 million.

“We will have to grow bond support and we will probably need to talk to the citizens’ group.”

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

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

He said the city is pretty far down the line until they absolutely decide on a final property.

“Then we can actually begin the detailed design process,” Lillich said.