New Municipal Courthouse REVIEWED

Max Hayden

Portage County is looking towards the future with big plans for a new municipal courthouse.

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 Street, the county has used the old railroad station as their courthouse for several decades. But the limited space and old architectural foundation has left many who work in the building looking for improvements.

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

But while some have their minds on a bigger building, some employees just hope that the 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 is more in favor for new equipment, he is not opposed to a larger courthouse.

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

A large amount of money has already been accumulated for the new courthouse. 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 (around $20 a case) have gone into the fund over the course of the past four years and the fund currently has close to two million dollars in it.

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

Once a location is picked, the city will issue additional construction bonds and the building will commence.

But where will the new courthouse be located? There are currently two locations under consideration.

A spot located on E. Main Street behind and including the Jimmy John’s building has already been appraised. An appraisal means a careful look at the available internal office space and environment and a decision on whether the building will meet business requirements for now and in the future. If that location is chosen, then the current Jimmy John’s sandwich shop will be demolished to make way for the new courthouse. Prior to the Jimmy John’s, the location was the site for the old Inn of Kent.

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.

Issues facing both locations as well are whether or not each location 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 Kent City Manager David Ruller. “I know that their architectural firm has shortlisted a couple of sites in the central business district so I’m optimistic that they’ll find something that will fit their current and future needs in downtown Kent.”

The county is still has a while before a site is officially picked. Costs 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,” said Ruller.

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 concluded. “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.”