Portage Country Municipal Courthouse plans for new courthouse

Max Hayden

Plans are underway for the construction of a new courthouse for the Portage County Municipal Courthouse in the city of Kent.

Currently located at the corner of Water and Erie Streets, the county has used the old railroad station as its courthouse for several decades, Judge Kevin Poland said. But the limited space and old architectural foundation have left many employees in the building looking for improvements.

“The current building is completely inadequate, and the physical facilities are lacking,” Poland said. “It’s too small, the basement floods, the roof leaks and all the employees seem to work on top of each other.”

But while employees like Poland have their minds on a bigger building, others hope a new courthouse will bring updated work conditions.

“We only have around 200 people in here a day, so we may not need to go that much bigger,” said Jake Roman, a police officer who stands guard at the entrance of the courthouse. “Our equipment needs to be updated. We need new scanners.”

Although Roman favors new equipment, he is not opposed to a larger courthouse.

“We do need more room for holding cells,” Roman said. “The ones we have aren’t nearly enough.”

A large amount of money has already been accumulated for the new courthouse. Poland said around four years ago, several county judges created a fund to gain fees for the construction of a new courthouse in the future. A portion of all court fees, which are around $20 a case, have gone into the fund over the last four years, which has accumulated to nearly $2 million.

“The main thing I want people to know is the money is not coming from the county and residents,” Poland said.

Once a new location is picked, the city will issue additional construction bonds and the building will commence. There are two locations under consideration.

Poland said a spot located on East Main Street behind and including the Jimmy John’s building has already been appraised.

If that location is chosen, the current Jimmy John’s sandwich shop will be demolished to make way for the new courthouse.

Poland said the second location being considered is an area located on state Route 43 where an abandoned shopping center now stands. The site has not yet been appraised.

Other issues facing the decision are whether or not they can be reached easily via public transportation and if a parking lot can be handicapped accessible.

Poland and other city officials have said they would like to keep a presence in downtown, but a location near or in the downtown area has yet to be found.

“We’ve encouraged the county to look for an opportunity to be a part of the downtown revitalization that is underway,” said David Ruller, Kent City Manager.

“I know that their architectural firm has shortlisted a couple of sites in the central business district,” Ruller said. “I’m optimistic that they’ll find something that will fit their current and future needs in downtown Kent.”

Poland said the county still has a while before a site is officially picked. Cost projections are still being discussed, and designs for the buildings are also still being drawn up.

“The city’s public safety director and I have offered whatever assistance we can to help the county evaluate their options and make a decision that is mutually beneficial,” Ruller said.

Poland hopes they will have a site chosen with construction starting within the next couple of months.

“The biggest decision when choosing a new location will be the cost,” Poland said. “It needs to be cost functional and cost effective. Only after we sort that out will we begin work on making a new courthouse a reality.”

Contact Max Hayden at [email protected].