Hall County Buying Building for Temporary Courthouse

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It will cost Hall County at least $1 million to renovate the courthouse, and now the county board has decided what price to pay to keep holding court while that work is done.

The Board of Supervisors says it will cost another $1 million, or double, if they stay in the building while it's under construction, so in a 4-3 split vote, they chose to buy a $600,000 building and use it as a "temporary" courthouse.

"You're guaranteed to lose all million dollars over here [by staying], you're going to lose part of that million, maybe most of that million dollars, but not all of it if you own a building," says supervisor Scott Arnold.

But without solid figures, Arnold and other board members worried that fixing the city-owned former Workforce Development Building on 3rd Street so it fits their needs will end up costing more.

"It's just, 'let's do it, let's get it done,' and I'm not willing to do that - we're spending somebody else's money here," says supervisor Steve Schuppan.

The buy is not final - the Grand Island City Council will have to approve it in the next few weeks - but if it goes through will be purchased using inheritance tax dollars.

The City of Grand Island took offers to buy the building, and the board's attorney says the purchase agreement documents indicate Hall County has up to 90 days to decide, but also says the City can drop it and go with another buyer - something other board members were afraid might happen.

"This building is the one opportunity to give us some wiggle room, or whatever you want to call it, so that we can fix that courthouse and fix it right," says supervisor Gary Quandt.

"Is it ideal? No, but there is no ideal spot in Grand Island," says supervisor Bob McFarland, who was chosen to be Hall County Board Chair for 2014. "We looked everywhere - there really isn't anything else available in town right now."

The board agrees that it won't be convenient for anyone, but those who voted 'yes' hope the move will save money and shorten the time spent displaced.

"We are not talking about creating a courthouse, we're talking about creating temporary areas where business can be adequately conducted for the courts," says Vice Chair Pam Lancaster.

While it's called "temporary," judges and staff could be using it for as long as two years.

McFarland says they will be meeting with judges and staff to go over six options that have been presented as to how to renovate the current courthouse. Replacing heating and air conditioning systems is a must, but how to expand could mean a new addition or using the old jail building next door.

"All of the judges indicated to us that it won't be that long and we'll be required to have a third district court judge, and that's going to require a third district courtroom," says McFarland.

McFarland says they will narrow the choices, then have the architects expand on them so the board can look at formal plans and cost estimates.