To break a stalemate between the six Lorain County Common Pleas judges and other county officials over where to house the Lorain County Adult Probation Department, Commissioner Tom Williams proffered a new plan.
Williams is proposing the department relocate to the fifth floor of the Lorain County Administration Building. With vacant office space on the floor, it’s an idea worth considering, he said.
Williams is trying to find a solution that would end a battle with the county judges over relocating the department from the old courthouse, which the judges say needs too many repairs and is too dilapidated.
The judges have proposed moving the department to empty space in the county Justice Center, but the space isn’t finished and it would take more than $2 million to prep it for use — money the commissioners say the county does not have.
The judges — using county money — hired a lawyer with a $50,000 retainer to represent them in an anticipated legal battle over the relocation. Williams is adamant that he does not want to spend that type of money on legal fees.
“I’m trying to come up with a compromise and trying to get something going so we are spending taxpayer dollars wisely and not on lawyers,” he said.
The judges this week ordered the county to turn over $50,000 for a retainer for the Chandra Law Firm and lead attorney Subodh Chandra.
“If we can make it work, it could address all of the concerns of the old courthouse,” Williams said. “The administration building is a clean facility, and there is already vacant space up there, so there would be no need to renovate like a move to the Justice Center.”
But at this point it is just an idea, said Commissioner Ted Kalo.
“I don’t know if it’s a solution or not,” he said. “It was thrown Friday as an idea, but it’s not as simple as just walking up there, taking a look around and saying we can do this.”
In an email response to Williams, Kalo said he needs more information and would see the option as temporary at best because others use the floor.
“The functions of community development, solid waste and our economic development partners should be of the utmost importance if this is a viable option,” he wrote. “I will wait for Commissioner Lori Kokoski’s opinion once she does a walk-through with County Administrator Jim Cordes and Karen Davis.”
Kalo said Kokoski would be the most objective to do the walk-through. He advocated hard for the Lorain County Growth Partnership when it was developed and would be biased in any approach to relocating those offices.
During the walk-through, to take place early next week, Kokoski said she will assess the available space on the fourth and fifth floors to determine whether some departments can be moved to accommodate the Probation Department.
“This may be a viable low-cost solution if there is enough space,” she said.
A call to Tim Lubbe, Lorain County court administrator, was not returned Friday. Earlier this week, he said the main issue and concern of the judges has been and will continue to be employee safety.
“The law says the court can require reasonable and necessary facilities for its personnel, and that is what we intend to do,” Lubbe said.
Williams said he thinks a move to the county Administration Building could cost between $100,000 and $200,000. It could be a huge savings compared to moving to the Justice Center, which would cost between $2.4 million and $2.8 million to renovate.