For years, judges and prosecutors have asked Warren County commissioners to expand the common pleas court and give them more office space and courtrooms.
But they haven’t agreed on what’s needed or how much to spend.
What will likely speed up a decision is not a court order from the judges upstairs, but problems in the 911 emergency management center in the basement.
The communications center has maxed out the available space and electrical supply at the courthouse in Lebanon. There’s no room for the needed equipment used to communicate with police, firefighters and ambulance crews and other emergency workers in nearly every Warren County community.
“Because this county has grown so much we’ve added more equipment to the building and we’ve reached the limit,” said Paul Kindell, director of the Warren County Telecommunications Department.
“We need an additional transformer. The one we’re using today is at capacity.”
County commissioners said getting the emergency management center the equipment and space it needs is their top priority.
“The No. 1 thing that we have to do is provide for public safety. They are literally out of space. It’s just ridiculous down there,” Commissioner Dave Young said.
Earlier this month, architects unveiled designs of a more than $40 million expanded courthouse with three-story structures on the north, south and west wings on the county government campus off East Street in Lebanon.
The additions provide space for the emergency management center, judges, prosecutors, county court and room for growth.
Last week, however, county commissioners said Warren County could only afford to spend about $20 million.
Commissioners asked architects to create an alternate design and expand the courthouse 130,000 square feet in the rear, starting with the emergency management center and going straight across.
Officials said the architects’ original designs look great, but believe the alternative would be less expensive and could accommodate space needs for most of the court staff.
Architects said construction of an expanded courthouse will begin in April.
The courthouse expansion comes at a time when commissioners also are grappling with requests to expand the jail and juvenile/probate court and replace the rooftops on county buildings.
The jail expansion is expected to cost about $6 million, and the juvenile/probate court renovation could cost $4.5 million. Rooftop replacement on the juvenile/probate and Workforce One buildings will cost about $360,000 combined.
Commissioner Pat South said Warren County has historically paid cash for building projects and has only $9 million available for construction and maintenance costs.
South said officials expanded the jail and opened a detention/probation facility in 1996 and expanded the common pleas court in 2003 based on 20-year county growth projections.
But the county grew faster than expected, she said.
She said officials plan to spend money to maintain current buildings and are prioritizing expansion and renovation projects based on public and employee safety needs.
“We knew the day was coming when we were going to have to add on to common pleas court. That day is starting to arrive. We’re trying to meet those needs and more appropriately locate offices,” South said.
“But the growth projection we had in 1996 that we thought would be good for 20 years were only good for 11 years for some buildings,” she said.Contact this reporter at (513) 696-4542 or [email protected]