MOUNT VERNON — City officials have preliminary designs for the new municipal courthouse and police station, but they want community feedback before going further.
A public meeting is set for Thursday, Oct. 5, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at The Station Break, 160 Howard St.
“We want to get public input before we put a bunch of money in design,” City Engineer Brian Ball told city council members on Monday.
“This is the end of the planning and the beginning of engineering. This is the part where we really want to get folks in and discuss the nitty gritty of the fascia.”
The new courthouse will be on the northwest corner of East High and Gay streets, south of the existing courthouse building. It will still have a Gay Street address.
Ball said a unique aspect of the new courthouse is that the city plans to preserve retail space on the first floor.
“The judge has gotten preliminary approval from the Ohio Supreme Court to allow the retail to be embedded,” Balls said. “It will have a bomb-proof protection between the retail and the courthouse.”
The new courthouse is bigger, comprising a little over 13,000 square feet compared to the current 9,000 square feet.
The clerk’s office will be on the first floor, making it easy for people coming in to pay tickets.
The primary courtroom will be on the second floor and the probation department on the third.
“We are going to give an entire floor to probation. One of the things I think Mount Vernon should pride itself on is that we’re helping people do rehab,” Ball said. “… We’re going to create significant classroom space in the probation area and really work on helping people vs. basically putting them in jail and having them learn new tricks.”
The law director’s office is on the top floor, with room for an auxiliary courtroom to accommodate growth. The city will not initially outfit the auxiliary courtroom.
The city law director’s office and Mount Vernon Municipal Court handle non-felony cases throughout the county.
“We know we’re going to see expansion around Centerburg; we can debate about how many more folks are going to live in Mount Vernon. But we know there’s going to be more folks in the county,” Ball said.
“The current building is not insulated at all, which is why the judge’s bathroom — which is in a stairwell — freezes in the winter,” Law Director Rob Broeren said.
Thermal imaging of the current building shows heat leakage everywhere. The electric bill is about $15,000 a month.
The new building will feature gas heat, electric, and current insulation R-values.
The new police station will be located on Sychar Road. Police Chief Robert Morgan has said he does not need to be downtown as the officers are out and about town.
The station will be a single floor. The “basic” part of the floor roughly doubles the current space.
Added features include a shooting range that FEMA could potentially fund because it becomes a community shelter.
“With buildings like this it’s now mandatory to have shelter space, basically a fully enclosed concrete room,” Ball explained, adding that it would have a separate air system.
“In a tornado situation, this would give us up to about a 1,000-person shelter for the neighborhood which really doesn’t have that type of support now.”
The station will have a sally port and a larger and improved evidence storage area with its own air system. The current evidence storage area leaks odors.
“[The station] is bigger; we’re trying to accommodate growth,” Ball said. “If we don’t build it big enough, we’ll be like many other communities that are trying to rehab something they just paid for.”
Ball said the station and courthouse qualify for safety loans through USDA Rural Development. Loans are typically 40-year terms at around 1.3 percent.