Warren County government campus makeover stalled

Commissioners, county court officials disagree on expansion.

The board of commissioners recently rejected a plan expected to cost $3 million to $4 million to relocate the county court from the building it shares with the sheriff’s office and jail to a 14,694 square foot addition across the street.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Commissioner Dave Young said during a work session on March 22. “How did we get here?”

In December 2014, the commissioners approved a $1.5 million renovation and expansion of the court building at 500 Justice Dr. to accommodate the county court, which handles initial hearings, misdemeanor crime and small claims from unincorporated areas of Warren County.

It was to be the second phase of an overall makeover expected to upgrade facilities in the growing county and turn the various county buildings along Justice Drive and East Ave. into a single campus.

The county court was to move from the building at 550 Justice Dr. - renamed 822 Memorial Dr. after the death of Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Dulle - across the street to space opened up since the prosecutor’s office’s move to a new $6.5 million building behind the court offices at 500 Justice Dr.

The sheriff’s office would then expand into the 6,700 square feet left behind by the county courts, while consultants mapped out expansion of the county jail. The juvenile and probate court center, east of the sheriff’s office along Ohio 48, was also to see changes.

The county bought a $1.4 million records system in anticipation of clerks for the county court and common pleas courts - where felony cases, lawsuits and domestic relations cases are dealt with - working together in a single office.

“Consolidation just makes a whole lot more sense,” Commissioner Tom Grossmann said.

The two county judges, Gary Loxley and Robert Fischer, and staff huddled with the commissioners and county staff on the latest plan, which included a separate office for county court clerks.

“Having the clerks near us is important,” Fischer said, adding otherwise visitors might use a side door to exit after a court appearance, rather than heading into the clerk’s office.

There were also questions about the plan more than doubling the county courts’ space.

Common Pleas Clerk Jim Spaeth said the new county court space should anticipate future needs.

“We’re on top of each other,” Loxley said, noting a 2013 study called for 14,400 square feet for the county court space.

The proposed expansion also came after Judge Tim Oliver refused to move domestic relations court and offices within the building, County Administrator Dave Gully said.

On Friday, Gully there had been no developments since Tuesday’s meeting.