Cape Girardeau County officials ready to move from Common Pleas Courthouse

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, center, speaks at a meeting of county officials Monday about the possible purchase of the old federal building in Cape Girardeau. District 2 Commissioner Jay Purcell, left, and District 1 Commissioner Paul Koeper listen. (Fred Lynch)

Cape Girardeau County officials voiced concerns to county commissioners Monday over the possibility of remaining in the Common Pleas Courthouse and Courthouse Annex, while members of the public will have an opportunity to express their views Thursday.

During the regular county commission meeting, officials from the offices of the county clerk, assessor, collector and circuit court clerk emphasized their interest in moving their Cape Girardeau offices to the old federal building at 339 Broadway. Their biggest concerns with the current location were related to security, storage space and handicap accessibility.

"We've had threats there," county circuit clerk Charlie Hutson said. "We've had many, many irate people come in."

There is no security system in the Common Pleas Courthouse or in the Courthouse Annex.

County Clerk Kara Clark Summers said there is space in the federal building for the election equipment now stored in the Archive Center in Jackson, which is running out of room.

Hutson also pointed out that the federal building is handicap accessible, whereas the Common Pleas Courthouse is not. He said officials have had to carry people in wheelchairs up the stairs in the past.

But concerns over the federal building include renovation costs, increased overhead and a lack of parking space. Officials are also unsure of how they would create an additional courtroom in the federal building to be able to support simultaneous jury trials.

"This would not be a utopia situation, but it may be a whole lot better than what they have," Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said.

District 2 Commissioner Jay Purcell sent an e-mail to Jones and District 1 Commissioner Paul Koeper requesting that a public hearing be held to discuss the possible purchase. This would include the specific amount the county plans to offer for the building. Purcell said the official sale price from the General Services Administration is not to be disclosed, but the county is permitted to include the public in its discussion regarding its offer.

The other commissioners were not initially planning to hold a hearing because of schedule restraints and the approaching GSA deadline, Jones said. He also said he did not want to give "a few people a venue to act up," but that those against the purchase could contact the commissioners to express their views. However, the commission announced Monday afternoon that they will hold a public comment period to discuss the purchase at 11:15 a.m. Thursday.

County officials will meet with commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Thursday for a tour of the federal building facilities to help determine if it meets the county's needs.

"The last thing we want to do is try to enter into final negotiations with the GSA and then find out that none of you like it," Jones said to officials Monday morning. "You know, so if you don't like it, it's time to speak up."

The commission will vote whether to make an offer for the building during a closed session at 11 a.m. July 30. If the commission votes to make the offer, the county must send a 10 percent down payment to the GSA by July 31.


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