People who want to preserve the beauty of the County Courthouse should stop fighting a plan to relocate the 4th District Court to a new building, sheriff's Sgt. Ron Fernstedt told the Council of Governments last week.
Several members of COG, which is composed of Utah County mayors, said they oppose moving the district court into a new building with the Provo Circuit Court, currently located in the Provo City Building. They said the courthouse should remain a courthouse because that's why it was built.If the district court is moved, they said, the court likely would become a "broom closet" or be filled with county government offices - a charge County Commissioner Sid Sandberg denied.
As one of the most beautiful buildings in the state, Lehi Mayor George Tripp said, "It's ideal for the courts."
Fernstedt said the court's beauty is precisely the reason it is no longer suitable as a courthouse. Even if a proposed $2.8 million is spent to remodel the interior and exterior of the building to address security concerns, he said, the courthouse still would not be secure.
Not only does the courthouse's exterior have to be changed, but marble pillars inside the building likely would have to be removed. By spending only $2.8 million, "It's obsolete as soon as we move in," Fernstedt said.
As a result, he said, increased manpower costing about $200,000 annually would be needed to help provide security in the building. Prisoners, juries and the public cannot be adequately separated in the courthouse no matter how much remodeling is done.
"It's not a matter of if something is going to happen, it's a matter of when something is going to happen," Fernstedt said in reference to the Ronnie Lee Gardner murder in Salt Lake City.
Gardner, on death row for murder, shot and killed a Salt Lake attorney and critically wounded a court bailiff in the spring of 1985 during an escape attempt at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice. The shootings occurred after a woman slipped him a gun as he was taken to a routine court appearance.
Officials who don't have to live with security problems "are the only ones who want to stall the program of giving us a secure court facility" Fernstedt said.
Commissioner Malcolm Beck and at least one district judge disagree with Fernstedt.
"If it (the courthouse) can be remodeled as per plans, I have no problem with it," Judge Boyd L. Park said. "I would feel comfortable with it, but it doesn't measure up to what Ron or the American Bar Association would like."
Beck said courthouse remodeling doesn't necessarily mean its marble pillars would have to be removed.
"That's his own standpoint as a law enforcement officer. We don't allow policemen to dictate policy," he said. "If we're not going to use the courthouse for the courts, then we had no business building a new $10 million county building."
Judge Cullen Y. Christensen had no comment, but Judge Ray M. Harding said, "We need an updated facility desperately. The most appropriate and expeditious (plan) is to go into a new building."
Because the Legislature has authorized construction of a new building for both courts, "That's where we're going," he said.
According to Gordon Bissegger, deputy state court administrator, "Architectural findings indicate $2.8 million is not enough to address serious security concerns."
He said the estimated cost of a new building is $5.2 million compared to a $4.5 million needed for remodeling and installation of security elevators to transport prisoners to and from court. Bissegger said, however, another $1.5 million would be needed for an annex that would be required for expansion in about five years.
Bissegger said local officials should move ahead with the court relocation and quit "spinning our wheels." He said the new courthouse will soon go to bid.