Several local legislators aren't too happy about a plan to move the 4th District Court from the old County Courthouse and collocate it in a new building with the Provo Circuit Court.
Their concerns, however, should have been aired months ago, said Gordon Bissegger, deputy state court administrator. He said legislators should back the court collocation because the County Commission has rejected a remodeling plan that would have kept the district court in the courthouse."Why are we spinning our wheels at this point to get the commissioners to change their minds?" Bissegger said. "The best thing to do is move ahead with this other alternative of combining the two facilities."
Original plans called for the historic courthouse to be remodeled to accommodate the two courts. But results of an architectural study convinced the state court administrator's office and the state division of facility and construction management that the courthouse couldn't adequately accommodate both courts and their projected growth.
State officials subsequently proposed to remodel the courthouse strictly for the district court and build a new building for the Provo Circuit Court, currently located in the Provo City Building.
Commissioner Malcolm Beck backed the plan. But Commissioners Brent Morris and Sid Sandberg opposed the remodeling, which the state would have funded by paying off, over a 20-year period, $2.8 million in lease revenue bonds issued by the county. That amount would have addressed interior remodeling and seismic concerns, but was insufficient to address security concerns and construction of an annex.
Bissegger said he understands legislators' concerns, "but as the architectural findings indicate, $2.8 million is not enough to address serious security considerations."
The estimated cost of building a new facility - $5.2 million - is less than the approximately $6 million needed to remodel the courthouse, install security elevators and construct an annex, Bissegger said.
Sen. Chuck Peterson, R-Provo, disputes those figures, but said the biggest issue is that county residents want the courthouse to remain a courthouse.
"Of the people I've contacted, 90 percent are in favor of leaving the courts in the building and having it maintained as a courthouse," he said. Peterson said the county's 14-member legislative delegation feels the same.
If the courthouse were turned over to the state, he said, it would be better maintained. "The county doesn't have the expertise," he said.
Besides, he added, "Any time you give a political entity an empty office, they'll find someone to fill it." The courthouse would be better utilized as a courthouse rather than as a home for growing bureaucracy, Peterson said.
Morris and Sandberg, however, said that if Peterson had done his homework, he would be better informed and know they haven't advocated emptying the courthouse to accommodate government growth.
"Local elected leaders are the ones who should have control over that building," Morris said. Sandberg called Peterson's position "an emotional reaction not based on factual issues."
Under terms of an agreement between Provo and the state, Provo will issue lease revenue bonds to build the new courthouse, which will be located on the Ashton block north of the Excelsior Hotel. The state will lease the facility from Provo with an option to buy.
Bissegger said placing the two courts in a new building will mean additional savings because of combined data processing, telecommunication and clerical services. "To pull in the reins at this point after all that has transpired would be very difficult on us," he said.
Bissegger said the project will go out to bid next month. Construction likely will begin this summer and take a year.
As for future use of the courthouse once the district court has moved out, commissioners are organizing a committee to gather public input. So far, Sandberg said, suggestions include turning one floor of the three-floor facility into a museum and using part of it to house the county's tourism center and Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce.