December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Commissioner says old Lorain County Courthouse not so terrible

The old Lorain County Courthouse on Wednesday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

The old Lorain County Courthouse on Wednesday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Lorain County Commissioner Lori Kokoski said Wednesday that she doesn’t believe the conditions inside the old Lorain County Courthouse are as bad as they’ve been portrayed by the county’s General Division judges.

“I didn’t think it was so terrible,” she said.

Kokoski said she toured the building Tuesday and didn’t see any serious problems in the areas that the county’s Adult Probation Department has been assigned to use.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEgxf77wCFE

The judges want to move the Probation Department, which they oversee, to the unfinished fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center, a move the commissioners have balked at because the price tag to build out the floor would be between $2.4 million and $2.8 million.

The judges have complained for years about problems ranging from mold and rodent droppings to leaking pipes and asbestos. They have said the building isn’t a healthy work space.

Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams and Karen Davis, facilities manager for the commissioners, walk through the old Lorain County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Lorain County Commissioner Tom Williams and Karen Davis, facilities manager for the commissioners, walk through the old Lorain County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Chief Probation Officer Beth Cwalina said Wednesday that maintaining security with convicted criminals in the building also is an issue that needs to be addressed. She said the building is laid out like a courthouse, which means the office can’t function efficiently.

“The building is just chopped up to the point where we can’t do good work here,” Cwalina said. “We just can’t.”

Cwalina did acknowledge that county Facilities Director Karen Davis has ordered numerous repairs both inside and out at the old courthouse, but those don’t address many of the overall problems. For instance, she said, dampness is so bad that dehumidifiers must run constantly in the basement, which also houses the county’s Crime Lab.

Davis and Kokoski said many of the problems inside the courthouse are in places that the Probation Department isn’t using. For instance, Davis said, she had ordered a lock placed on a second-floor restroom that had dried human waste in the toilets because the water was shut off.

Davis acknowledged that could have come from homeless people who had been breaking into — and possibly living inside — the building last year.

The commissioners had suggested relocating the Probation Department to 374 Broad St., which would cost about $1.3 million. Administrative Judge James Burge and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda both opposed that plan because it would mean a large contingent of probationers gathering in downtown Elyria on a daily basis.

Commissioner Tom Williams also has suggested relocating the Probation Department to the fifth floor of the Lorain County Administration Building, which houses the county’s economic development and Solid Waste Management District offices.

Several of the county’s judges said they were open to the possibility during a tour of that space on Tuesday. It would mean relocating the current occupants somewhere else, likely the Broad Street location, Williams said.

But Williams said Wednesday that after further conversations with the judges, he thinks they might be able to reach an agreement to move the Probation Department to the Justice Center.

The judges have agreed to cover at least part of the cost by taking out a loan.

Kokoski said she’s concerned about the county taking on additional debt so soon after the commissioners borrowed money to repair crumbling county infrastructure such as sidewalks and roofs.

Burge has threatened that he and the other judges will issue an order to repair the old courthouse if the commissioners don’t agree to the move to the Justice Center. But he and the other judges also have said they are open to other options even after ordering the commissioners to cough up $50,000 to hire a Cleveland law firm to represent the judges in the dispute.

Williams said he’s hopeful a proposal he’s putting together involving the Justice Center space will lead to some sort of compromise that doesn’t involve a pricey legal fight.

“We’re going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a judge is going to say come up with a compromise,” he said.

Kokoski also said she’s worried because of the cost of potential security upgrades at the Justice Center the judges are reviewing as well as a new computer system that would link the various arms of the court system throughout the county.

Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski said a security committee is reviewing what security improvements need to be made. A final cost hasn’t been determined.

Commissioner Ted Kalo, who opposes moving the Probation Department to the Justice Center, said the cost of the computer system under discussion will likely be between $3 million and $6 million.

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