ELYRIA — Lorain County Administrator Jim Cordes said Wednesday the commissioners need to look at requests to renovate or relocate the offices of several county agencies in tandem rather than viewing them as separate issues.
Cordes said that by coordinating moves or renovations the county might be able to “collapse costs.”
“We have to look at it that way,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said after the meeting. “There’s a lot of needs.”
The two most vocal requests to relocate have come from the county’s General Division judges, who want to move the county’s Adult Probation Department from the old Lorain County Courthouse, and the county Veterans Service Commission, which is housed in the same North Ridge Road facility as the county’s Department of Job and Family Services.
The judges have long complained about the conditions at the old courthouse, although Cordes and several of the commissioners have said the problems there aren’t as serious as the judges have made them out to be.
The commissioners had suggested consolidating the Probation Department, which has offices in the old courthouse and the old Columbia Gas building on Third Street, in a building at 374 Broad St.
But the judges and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda didn’t like the idea of probationers on the streets of downtown and the proposal was scrapped. The judges had wanted to build out the vacant fifth floor of the Lorain County Justice Center, but Kokoski and Commissioners Ted Kalo have balked at the estimated cost of $2.4 million to $2.8 million.
Kalo also said he fears that if the county moves offices out of the old courthouse, the building will fall into complete disrepair. Cordes said that the county will also have to consider moving the Crime Lab out of the old courthouse in the near future.
He said the Broad Street building could hold multiple agencies.
Commissioner Tom Williams has backed the judges’ Justice Center proposal in part because he worries that if the commissioners don’t agree to the judges’ request the county will end up footing the legal bills of both sides in a legal fight that will end with a judge ordering them to compromise.
Williams also had suggested relocating the Probation Department to the fifth floor of the Lorain County Administration Building, where the county’s economic development agencies are located, but that suggestion hasn’t gained much traction.
Those disagreements have left the commissioners and judges contemplating renovating the old courthouse, something Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said could cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.
But because that’s the direction the commissioners are leaning, he said, the judges had an architect come in to examine the space and are now awaiting recommendations on improvements.
Williams said he too thinks the repair bill for the old courthouse will be high.
“Just going through and doing cosmetic repairs is not going to get us out of that lawsuit,” he said.
Williams also finds himself in the minority when it comes to relocating the Veterans Service Commission, whose leaders have complained about small work areas and a lack of privacy at the facility. Some veterans also have said they don’t like having to park in the same lot as those seeking aid from the Department of Job and Family Services.
Williams said the privacy issues can be addressed by expanding and renovating Veterans Services’ current offices, but the other commissioners said they’re willing to entertain a possible move.
Kalo said he thinks the Broad Street building would be a good location, although Kokoski said she doesn’t necessarily think downtown Elyria is centrally located enough for veterans. She favors moving Veterans Services to the old Lorain County Transit offices at One Park Landing in Lorain and opening up a satellite office in the southern part of the county.
Sam Betounes, who serves on the Veterans Service Commission, said the veterans are willing to work with the commissioners, but he believes under state law the veterans have the final say over their office location. The Veterans Services budget for 2015 included an additional $1.3 million to cover the cost of a move or renovation.
Betounes said the One Park Landing offices might be too small, although both the Broad Street and old Columbia Gas buildings have possibilities. The key issue for veterans, he said, is to address the privacy concerns.
“We’re not trying to be argumentative,” he said. “We will listen to any reasonable approach that they come up with.”
Cordes also said the commissioners should consider moving county Coroner Stephen Evans’ offices from Oberlin to Elyria. The commissioners have discussed that possibility for years because the county doesn’t own the office space used by Evans and his staff.
But Evans said Wednesday he was surprised to learn the commissioners are once again discussing moving his office, even if it would save the county his $1,500 per month rent.
He said the Oberlin office is geographically central to the county and unless there’s a good reason to move his office, he doesn’t want to do so.
“We’re set where we’re at,” he said. “We have no desire to move because we’re in a very nice location for what we do.”
Evans said he had considered a move to University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center, where the county morgue is, but that idea didn’t work out because of space issues at the hospital.