December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Judges: Put old Lorain County Courthouse on death row

ELYRIA — Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi told the county commissioners on Wednesday that he was “appalled” by the state of the old Lorain County Courthouse, which houses the county’s Adult Probation Department.

“What I saw over there wouldn’t be appropriate for a probation department in a Third World country,” Miraldi said.

Miraldi said he and other judges toured the building earlier this week and saw black mold, asbestos, a broken elevator and numerous other problems in the more than century-old building.

Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi, who also took the tour, referred to the old Courthouse as “that pit” and said there were serious air quality problems inside.

The judges have pushed the commissioners for months to build out the vacant fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center to house the Probation Department. Some county officials have balked at the price tag of the preparing the fifth floor, estimated to cost $2.4 million to $2.8 million.

Administrative Judge James Burge has said the judges, who oversee the Probation Department, are willing to pick up half the cost of the project as well as any cost overruns.

The county had proposed moving the Probation Department to 374 Broad St. at a cost of $1.3 million, but that suggestion has drawn criticism from both Burge and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda. They both have said they don’t want people on probation for felonies spending time in the downtown business area.

Burge has threatened that he and the other judges will issue a court order requiring the commissioners to spend money to upgrade the old courthouse if the fifth floor project isn’t approved.

Commissioner Tom Williams, who said he supports the fifth floor plan, said the cost of completely renovating the old courthouse would be between $10 million and $15 million.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said the problems at the old courthouse aren’t as bad as the judges have claimed.

For instance, he said the asbestos has been abated in the building and that mold will always be a problem in sandstone buildings. There is no proof, Cordes said, that there is black mold in the building.

Another issue, Cordes said, is that the Probation Department has expanded into areas of the building where they were never supposed to be. In a recent example, he said, a storage closet was converted to an office without the county being notified.

Cordes also scoffed that the commissioners had ignored the equivalent of a thick book worth of repair requests from the judges and probation officials. He said he is aware of three pages worth of complaints.

County maintenance workers have been making repairs to the building in recent weeks, although the judges and county officials have clashed over where and when city inspectors can enter the building to look for problems.

Commissioner Lori Kokoski said she and her fellow commissioners are open to finding a solution, but the judges only seem willing to entertain their plan to build out the fifth floor.

“It’s like my way or the highway with the judges,” she said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.