County Close To Buying Court Site

December 3, 2007
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Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said he is close to finalizing a purchase agreement with Grand Rapids Township for five acres near the southeast corner of the East Beltline and Knapp Street, a site that would become the new and sole home for the 63rd District Court.

Delabbio told the Business Journal that he hopes to present the purchase agreement to the county’s Finance Committee within 30 to 45 days, break ground on the courthouse in late winter or early spring, and have the building operational by the end of next year.

“We hope to have it open by the end of 2008, but I’m not sure,” he said.

The motive behind the property purchase is to consolidate the court from its two current locations, in Rockford and Cascade Township, into one site and overcome the overcrowded conditions both courts experience on a somewhat regular basis.

The county also sees the project as a cost-saving move. The new courthouse will have lower utility bills and reduced security charges. In addition, the county will not have to pay rent for the court’s Second Division in Cascade, where the county leases that building.

The Knapp Street site is the second parcel the county has looked at for the courthouse. Late in 2005, the county announced it was going to buy six acres along Four Mile Road and the East Beltline for a little over $1 million.

But a lack of methane remediation at a landfill near the site raised some environmental concerns and caused the county to look elsewhere. Kent wanted to keep the courthouse within that general vicinity because the area is about halfway between the two courts.

“It was a nice location and it was visible,” said Delabbio of the first site.

“The issue had to do with mitigation of methane migration from a landfill. We thought the risks were minimal, but we decided to look elsewhere.”

Despite having a different site for the courthouse, the building plan remains roughly the same. The county plans to put up a two-story, 40,000-square-foot building at an estimated cost of $6 million. Even though the 63rd District only has two judges, the new courthouse will have three courtrooms.

A third is being built in anticipation of another judge being named to the court someday. The county used the same construction philosophy when it built the $60 million courthouse for the Circuit Court system at the corner of Lyon Street and Ottawa Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids, and the court added another justice since the building opened.

Post Associates designed the new 63rd District courthouse.

The county still plans to sell the Rockford courthouse on Maple Street — home to the district’s First Division — to the city of Rockford.

“They have the right of first refusal, and in conversations we’ve had with the city manager (Michael Young) about this particular issue, they’re still interested,” said Delabbio.

63rd District Court judges Steven Servaas and Sara Smolinski hear about 21,000 cases each year — 7,000 more than the average district court in the state. The 63rd has 34 full-time employees and a 2008 budget of $2.9 million.

The new courthouse will also house the district’s magistrate and all court-related staff members. A total of 40 are expected to be located there.

But not all functions at the current courthouses will be moved to the new building. The collections office for traffic violations will be shifted to sheriff substations near the current courthouses.

County commissioners approved funding for the new 63rd District courthouse earlier this year.

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