County holds Q&A on courtroom expansion

MARSHALL – Possible options for a building addition at the Lyon County Government Center got a second outing Wednesday night at a public hearing, held in the Lyon County district courtrooms. While few members of the general public attended, Lyon County Commissioners, court and law enforcement officials were all present to review the options and ask questions about the designs.

The Lyon County Board is considering options to expand the Lyon County District Court for a variety of reasons.

“They just don’t accommodate what we need to have done,” County Board Chairman Rick Anderson said of the current courtrooms. The courtrooms are cramped, and Anderson said there will be a need for more elbow room in the future. The state of Minnesota is moving to a paperless court records system, which will require computer terminals that the courtrooms aren’t currently designed or wired for.

Additionally, there is room for improvement in courtroom security, said Steve Johnson, of Vetter Johnson Architects. Courts need to have secure corridors, both to separate prisoners from the general public, and for judges and court staff to access the courtrooms. The Lyon County courts have undergone renovations to help with prisoner transport, but Johnson said those renovations have been more of a stopgap measure.

“The big hurdles we were faced with had more to do with the existing (Government Center) building,” Johnson said. He said the existing building footprint isn’t big enough to expand the courtrooms while adding needed secure corridors and security checkpoints.

The existing building support columns and ceiling heights are also difficult to work around. A mechanical-systems penthouse on the roof prevents the construction of a fourth floor, Johnson said.

A building study conducted by Vetter Johnson Architects came up with two possible layouts for an expansion of the Government Center and courts. One option would be to build an addition on the west side of the Government Center, close to the Law Enforcement Center, but architects hadn’t fleshed out as many details for that concept.

A second option would be a building addition on the east side of the current Government Center. The addition would bring the outer walls of the building further toward Main Street, about 15 feet from the sidewalk, Johnson said. The extra space would allow for larger courtrooms, completely enclosed corridors for prisoner transport and court staff, a secure holding area, and a permanent security checkpoint at the entrance to the courts area.

The district court would only occupy the third story of the addition, however. Johnson said the additional space on the second floor could be used to reconfigure county offices like the assessor and recorder, or for meeting space like a boardroom. The lower story would house mechanical and electrical rooms, and some additional space for rental offices or county expansion.

Pete Filippi of Contegrity Group construction management services estimated the cost of construction of the building addition at about $10.2 million. That figure didn’t include costs like furnishings and technology, he said. Filippi and Johnson said the option to build an addition near the Law Enforcement Center would be less expensive, but would also remove a lot of existing parking spaces around the Government Center.

Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg said the county would need to do some bonding to fund construction of a Government Center addition. However, he said he thought he could work to minimize the impact on the county levy.

If county commissioners act to approve a design within the next month or so, Stomberg said, it could be possible to accept bids for construction by spring.

Before adjourning the hearing Wednesday, county commissioners asked Johnson and Filippi to come up with some more details on the other building addition concept, for comparison.