Bond issue to fund new county courts facility to be placed before voters

By: 
Paul Garrod - news4garrod@vineyardpress.biz
	The historic Van Buren County Courthouse, built in 1901, stands at sundown Wednesday with its annex behind it, which was added in 1976.	
Courier-Leader photo/Paul Garrod

    PAW PAW -  The  historic Van Buren County Courthouse is in need of upgrades for it to continue serving the public as it has for the past 116  years.
    On May 2, county officials will seek voter approval of a  bond issue calling  for a $32 million courthouse and Van Buren County Jail upgrades, and the  renovation of the Administration and Land Services Building.
    Voters will be asked to  approve  a request for  .70 mills for  20 years to fund the project. Homeowners with a house valued at $100,000 would pay $35 a year.
    The courthouse was designed in the late 1890s and built in 1901. The courthouse annex was added  in 1976.
    County officials have said that the  courthouse provides  an unsafe environment for judges and staff, as well as jurors, in addition to an obsolete court and hearing rooms.
    There is no separation of the public and inmates, according to county officials.
    In newer courthouses,  floor plans have been utilized to address the issue of separation of inmates from the general public in the courthouse.
    “It is time to provide for a safer environment for our employees and the public in our courthouse,” said Van Buren County Commissioner Chairman Richard Godfrey.
    Along with courthouse up-dates,  plans call for  increased parking spaces, and well and  new lighting and signage.
    The county’s Administration Building, located adjacent to the courthouse, would seek improvements  made to the  building’s elevator system, as well as  ADA compliant  restrooms.
    The former Sheriff’s Residence, located on the corner of Berrien and South Kalamazoo streets, which was also built in 1901, would be demolished to make way for a new 60,000-square-foot, three-story court facility, located next to the jail.
    A  secure prisoner transport connector would also be designed from the jail to the new courts facility.
    The  county will soon begin a  $5 million improvement project to the county jail that  will see additional space for booking, housing, a day-room, medical rooms, offices and storage. A new  receiving area and kitchen are also planned, as well as a new jail roof.
    The historic courthouse would still see use as a back-up location for non-inmate hearings, and would be used  for ceremonial events such as the annual Adoption Day, Law Day, swearing-in ceremonies and oath of office events.
    “Commissioners have ex-plored many options for providing the most economical solution for our courtroom and jail requirements. After consulting with many experts in the fields of construction, financial  alternatives, building use and design, commissioners believe this is the best solution to meet the county's needs,” said  Godfrey.
                                                   •••
    As announced in February, public tours of the Paw Paw courthouse and jail are being offered to increase awareness of facility needs in response to the May 2 millage proposal. Van Buren County officials have added evening options to the schedule due to multiple re-quests from the community.
    Tour Schedule:
    •March 30, 10  a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.;
    •April 27, 10 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.
    Tours will begin at the entrance to the Courthouse.
    For more information, contact Richard Godfrey, Chairman, Van Buren County Board of Commissioners, at (269) 657-8200 , ext. 1206.
    County officials also will make presentations this month and in April at area  governmental entities.
    Presentations include:
    Antwerp Township -Tuesday,  April 11, 7 p.m.
    Arlington Township - Wednesday, April 19, 7 p.m.
    Gobles  - City Hall, Tuesday, April  18, 6 p.m.
    Lawrence Township - Thursday, April 13, 7 p.m.
        Lawrence Village Hall - Tuesday,  April 11, 7 p.m.
    Lawton Village Hall - Tuesday, April 11, 7 p.m.
    Mattawan Village Hall - Monday, March 27, 7 p.m.
    Paw Paw Village Hall - Monday, April 10, 7:30 p.m.
    Pine Grove Township -Tuesday, April 11, 7 p.m.
    Porter Township - Wednesday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.
   

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32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
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