The court is now in session

December 7, 2009
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It’s fairly obvious that the judges, administrators and staff of the Kent County 63rd District Court aren’t superstitious. Or if they are, they aren’t letting on.

Their new courthouse, which resulted from the northern and southern districts of the court being merged, opened for limited business on Friday, Nov. 13.

A full docket of cases were heard the following Monday.

Al Jano, the county’s facilities manager, said the move from the two district courthouses in Rockford and Cascade Township to the new building at 1950 East Beltline Ave. NE near Knapp Street went smoothly and was accomplished in a matter of days.

“Essentially, the court was closed for three days,” he said of Nov. 10-12. “The physical move by the movers and facilities staff took place on the 11th, and then they unpacked on the 12th. … Most of what we moved were boxes, just scads of files.

“It will certainly be the most energy-efficient building the county has,” said Jano.

The crown jewel of that efficiency is the geothermal system that will heat and cool the courthouse. It cost $645,000, more than most HVAC systems. But it is expected to save the court up to 50 percent to heat the building each year and 30 percent to cool it. And those savings should pay for the cost of the system in about 10 years.

“The geothermal system itself encompasses a whole lot, not just the 47 300-foot wells that are underneath the north parking lot. There are several heat pumps throughout the facility, but it’s all part of the integral system. The geothermal system has to be taken in its entirety,” said Jano.

Another viable efficiency is the operational savings that will come from having one location instead of two. County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio estimated last year that the county would save approximately $230,000 annually by combining the court’s northern and southern sites into the new courthouse.

The merging of the courts didn’t come without controversy. The city of Rockford took legal action to keep the northern district within its limits. But county officials felt consolidation would be better for the court and its budget, which is $2.8 million this year.

“Overall, for the general public it serves, it is very efficient to have one location. Plus the county can provide a better facility under one roof than it can spread over two, and provide better services such as snow removal from the walks and drives, but also for the Sheriff’s Department transfers of in-custody defendants,” said Jano.

“We’re not running people to the north and mid-part of the county. We’re taking them to one location, which now has a sally port — which is an efficient garage and intake system — instead of going to two places that don’t have any type of secure intake.”

Jano said the new central location was also more efficient for attorneys.

The county bought the courthouse property from Grand Rapids Township in January 2008. Nearly $900,000 went toward the purchase price and closing costs. Another $625,000 was spent to upgrade the infrastructure on the 5.3 acres.

The county spent roughly $6 million to build the courthouse, which was constructed according to U.S. Green Building Council guidelines. Andy McLeod of Post Associates was the building’s lead architect, while Pioneer Construction Co. managed the building project.

“Pioneer wrapped up their heavy construction well on schedule,” said Jano, while adding that the county put in the flooring and the security system and did the data wiring.

The property purchase and construction tab is being paid through bonds the county sold in May 2008.

Kent County finished two construction projects and started one this year that are worth about $45 million. In addition to opening the 63rd District Court a few weeks ago, the county also opened the $27 million Human Services Complex in June and began work on the new $12 million recycling station late last summer.

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