Moving day is officially scheduled.
Christian County officeholders and employees are scheduled to move equipment and furniture into the Justice Center annex over a space of three days in early March. The county commission held a discussion of the move with stakeholders on Jan. 24, in a push to tie up some unanswered questions.
Construction crews intend to have the three-story, 34,000-square foot building in Ozark complete by March 1, 2019. The building costs $11.1 million.
The justice center annex sits to the south of the existing Christian County Justice Center, and will have its main entrance at the corner of West Walnut Street and South First Street. It will eventually house Christian County’s prosecuting attorney’s offices and the juvenile office. It also has courtrooms for two circuit judges, a detention area for inmates awaiting court hearings and conference rooms to support the courtrooms.
Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu is hopeful for a quick and efficient move.
“My assumption today remains that on March 6, 7 and 8, everybody will move as planned and then will begin functioning in their new spaces, and that our judges and our sheriff’s department will work cooperatively to minimize the impact on people that are currently serving in other areas,” Bilyeu said.
Presiding Commissioner Ralph Phillips correctly predicted that the move will set off some chain reactions as Christian County’s government offices adjust to new space.
“It’s like opening Pandora’s box,” Phillips joked.
When the annex opens, Christian County will have three buildings with operational courtrooms on its courthouse campus in Ozark.
“We’re going to have six courtrooms and four judges,” Phillips said.
In 2017, Christian County gained a second circuit judge’s position, and Missouri 38th Judicial Circuit began operating with two circuit judges and two associate circuit judges.
The second circuit judge, Jennifer Growcock, took up office and began holding court on the second floor of the Christian County Historic Courthouse. The building underwent renovations and policy changes in order to be retrofitted for a modern courtroom to operate on the second floor.
With two new courtrooms being built in the annex building, Phillips would like to see the courtroom in the historic courthouse phased out of use.
“My goal would be that we would never, unless it’s extreme, utilize this courtroom upstairs, ever. From an operational standpoint and a logistics standpoint, I think it’s critical that we’re all on the same page on that,” Phillips said.
Cindy Childress, secretary for the presiding judge, told the commission that Christian County could be required by state law to add a third associate circuit if its population climbs above 100,000 people.
“We have a judge who will be coming soon. Originally, it was 2020, which is only next year. If we give away that space, we will have to accommodate that judge when they do come here. We are required to give them a space and an office,” Childress said.
The topic of staffing sheriff’s deputies to provide security at the courthouses surfaced again at the commission meeting Jan. 24.
Sheriff Brad Cole said that security needs depend on which parts of the Justice Center annex are open and occupied at any given time.
Cole said his office does not have the manpower to transport inmates back and forth from the jail across Walnut Street to the Justice Center annex. It could be accomplished by reassigning road deputies or detectives.
“We’ll have—for the most part—no issue staffing the building as far as a main entrance and roving security,” Cole said.
Cole is also interested in attempting to gain space in the Justice Center once some offices relocate across the street.
“I know there is some space that’s slated to be remodeled in the current judicial building that has been indicated that it would be occupied by the sheriff’s office,” Cole said. “We still have the issue of eight detectives and one analyst operating out of one office space about half the size of this room (the county commission’s chambers) right now. That is not ideal.”
Looking at the current plan, Cole wasn’t sure any additional office space would become available to detectives.
“At some point, we’ve got to look at their work space and do something to try to fix that,” Cole said.