As Adams County prepares for the planned $37 million justice center approved by voters during the general election, one local judge shared concerns about whether new courtrooms will meet state standards.
Saying he represented all Adams County and district court judges, District Court Judge Stephen Illingworth spoke Tuesday — during the first Adams County Board of Supervisors meeting since the Nov. 3 general election — about the Nebraska Supreme Court facility planning guidelines and standards. He gave each county board member a copy of courtroom facility planning guidelines and standards and provided an overview of the thick document.
The county needs to obtain approval from the Nebraska Supreme Court upon completion of the plans before construction can begin on the new justice center.
The guidelines state the planning committee for the project should include representatives from the county board, judges, members of court staff such as court reporters and bailiffs, members of the bar association and local law enforcement representatives.
Three stages must be approved: when the facility analysis is complete, when a schematic design is developed and after final designs are converted to construction drawings, and before final designs go to bid.
Illingworth said there was concern among judges whether the courtroom structure proposed for the justice center would meet all of the necessary guidelines and still stay under $38 million, which is the maximum amount Adams County can bond for the project.
“It will slow your process considerably,” he said.
While the judges were unanimous that a new jail is needed, they were united in the sentiment that courtrooms aren’t needed on site at the jail.
Illingworth said it was the recommendation from local judges that Adams County build a jail that is state of the art and big — “so you have a lot of space for future expansion” — and to leave the courtrooms in the courthouse.
There would need to be video conferencing available between the jail and the courthouse.
Supervisor Scott Thomsen, who oversaw much of the justice center planning, said he talked to all the local judges in working on the justice center plans and hadn’t received this feedback before.
Illingworth said Thomsen talked to judges about general plans for the justice center, but didn’t include them from the beginning of the planning process.
Supervisor Dale Curtis tried to assure Illingworth about the experience of Omaha architecture firm Prochaska and Associates, with which the county has been working on the justice center.
“Prochaska has built justice centers before. I hope they realize a lot of what is in here and a lot of it’s included in their design,” Curtis said, holding his copy of the guidelines.
Thomsen said the planning process will be inclusive.
“I talked to (County Clerk Magistrate) Tom Hawes, and I told him everybody’s going to be involved in this,” he said. “Nobody’s going to be left out of this thing.”
Curtis said planning for the justice center was meant to address court system needs.
“I respect you,” he said. “I respect your authority. I respect your knowledge, but work with me.”
“I’ll absolutely work with you,” Illingworth responded.
“Because our intentions are honorable,” Curtis added.
Thomsen also expressed respect for Illingworth.
“We always had a good working relationship,” he said. “Let’s continue it and let’s see what we can do.”
Also during the meeting, the supervisors voted 6-1 to approve an addendum to the agreement with Prochaska and Associates for continued services relating to the justice center.
The addendum outlines Prochaska’s architect fees of $2.045 million, which are included within the total project cost.
Thomsen said that amount was negotiated down from more than $2.3 million.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said
Supervisor Chuck Neumann was the dissenter. He wanted to see a second bid.
Curtis said 7% is a standard architect fee.
“We can move on with approving it because you’re not going to get any better price,” he said.
“If somebody’s going to start all over it’s going to cost more,” Thomsen said.
The supervisors also unanimously approved authorizing the issuance, sale and delivery of general obligation bonds in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $38 million for the justice center.
In other business, the supervisors:
- Unanimously approved signing the audit acknowledgement form for the Adams County Attorney victim/witness grant, stating the program spent less than $750,000 between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.
- Unanimously approved four tax list corrections as the board of equalization.
- Unanimously approved a motor vehicle exemption for Mary Lanning Healthcare as the board of equalization.
- Unanimously approved a resolution stating the annual year-end certification of Highway Superintendent Dawn Miller. Miller said Adams County receives $9,500 from the Nebraska Department of Transportation because of her certification.