December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain County Probation Department looking for new location

ELYRIA — The Lorain County Probation Department is on the hunt for a new place to call home.

Court Administrator Tim Lubbe told the county commissioners Wednesday that a proposal to build out the now-vacant fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center to house both the Probation Department and the county’s drug lab would cost between $2.75 million and $3.35 million.

The Probation Department is split between two locations — the old Columbia Gas building on Third Street and the old Lorain County Courthouse. The courthouse location especially has been plagued with problems ranging from rodents to security concerns for years.

Lubbe had said building out the fifth floor of the Justice Center would create 15,469 square feet and still leave room for another courtroom to be built on the floor if it was ever needed.

Despite acknowledging the need, commissioners weren’t exactly sold.

“Three million is a lot of money,” Commissioner Ted Kalo said.

The commissioners asked the judges, who oversee the Probation Department, to consider a new location, the old annex building at 374 Broad St., which was recently acquired by the Lorain County Port Authority. The county also owns a small office storefront at 104 Middle Ave. that could also be converted to serve the needs of the Probation Department.

Port Authority Director Pat Metzger said after the meeting that the annex building has roughly 13,000 square feet of space, while the smaller building has about 3,000 square feet.

But Administrative Judge James Burge said he isn’t certain how those coming into downtown Elyria would appreciate the roughly 350 criminals who come through the Probation Department and drug lab on a daily basis hanging out downtown.

Commissioner Tom Williams had noted that he often sees people in the small park in front of the old Courthouse waiting to get into the Probation Department or drug lab.

“Many of the people Mr. Williams is seeing should be in prison,” Burge said.

But the judge and other court staff said that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has been discouraging judges from sending low-level felony offenders to prison to alleviate overcrowding in the state prison system.

That means more people are being put on probation to be monitored locally, court officials said.

Lubbe agreed to look into renovating the other buildings and report back to commissioners later this year about how much that would cost.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.