Kent County Poised To Buy Court Site

January 9, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County commissioners will decide soon whether to buy 5.3 acres from Grand Rapids Township as a new home for a consolidated 63rd District Court.

The property is a former apple orchard on Knapp Street NE, just east of the East Beltline and adjacent to the township’s hall and park. The purchase price is $895,000, or $169,000 an acre. But the county is including another $625,000 to cover closing costs and remediation work that will likely need to be done on the site, which reportedly has arsenic in the topsoil.

Kent County Facilities Management Director Bob Mihos said an earlier environmental assessment done by the township revealed that arsenic was present and could be remediated. He also said closing wouldn’t occur until the county has a chance to review a new analysis of the soil and determine how much it would cost to clean up the property.

“We haven’t received the report of what that remediation cost is. That will be part of the environmental report. We will know that before we close,” Mihos told the county’s Finance Committee last week.

“If there is something that is found to be unacceptable in the report, then we don’t have to purchase the property,” he added.

It’s not uncommon to find arsenic in the soil of apple orchards, especially older ones that have had decades of pesticide spraying.

The county is prepared to pay up to $1.52 million for the property and its clean-up.

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said the county looked at two other potential sites in roughly the same area for the new courthouse, but both were near office parks and were on the tax roll. He said buying the land from the township wouldn’t affect the county’s property-tax revenue because the site isn’t on the roll.

Mihos said land in that area normally sells for $200,000 to $500,000 an acre, so the county was getting a good price on the property.

The county plans to build a two-story, 40,000-square-foot courthouse on the site for an estimated cost of $6 million and bring the two existing locations of the 63rd District Court to it. One court is in Rockford in a building the county owns and hopes to sell to the city of Rockford. The other court is in Cascade Township; the county leases that building.

Delabbio told the Business Journal last month that the county hopes to break ground on the new courthouse late this year or early in 2009, and have the building operational by the end of next year.

The Knapp Street property is the second site the county has seriously considered buying for the court. Late in 2005, the county intended to purchase six acres along Four Mile Road and the East Beltline for about $1 million. But a problem arose with a nearby landfill.

“It was a nice location and it was visible,” said Delabbio. “The issue had to do with the mitigation of methane migration from a landfill. We thought the risks were minimal, but we decided to look elsewhere.”

Commissioners will vote on the property purchase on Jan. 24. Members of the Finance Committee approved it last week. Should the commission do the same, the county and the township would share any costs for improvements that would be made to Knapp Street and the property’s infrastructure.

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