Cape County Commission to vote on exploring courthouse upgrade

Thursday, March 22, 2012
Themis Street intersects Common Pleas Courthouse Park between Spanish and Lorimier streets in Cape Girardeau. The courthouse can be seen at the top of the terraced hill in the background. (Fred Lynch)

The Cape Girardeau County Commission is expected to decide during today's meeting whether to contract with architectural firms to review the county's courthouses and other facilities, with a possible eye toward consolidation or construction of a new courthouse.

But what course the county pursues will depend on what results come from the contractor's study.

Commissioners will vote on whether to request proposals from architectural firms for long-term planning dealing with the county's courthouses and other facilities, according to the meeting agenda.

Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said he anticipates commissioners will ask firms for guidance in several scenarios, ranging from plans for a new courthouse to making the best use of space in existing buildings.

Commissioner Jay Purcell has publicly supported planning for a new centralized courthouse. Last July, Purcell said a four-year period of making changes to the county's expenses -- with moves such as reducing staff by way of attrition and stopping duplication of county services by having two courthouses -- could save hundreds of thousands of dollars that could go toward the cost of building a courthouse. According to Purcell, that savings leveraged into bonds could equal $4 million to $5 million and pay for a smaller, scaled-back courthouse. In the case that the county would eventually decide to build a larger courthouse, it has a strong bond rating and the ability to borrow money cheaper than most other public entities, he said.

Purcell reaffirmed his support for moving forward in planning for a new courthouse in an email to the Southeast Missourian on Wednesday, calling the request for a proposal "the first step towards something I have long advocated for, which is a smaller, less burdensome county government."

"It is my belief that by consolidating several facilities and the associated manpower with those facilities into one county campus the citizens would save a great deal of money without sacrificing service," he wrote.

In 2011, commissioners ordered a structural analysis of the current courthouses, which found water infiltration to be the main concern for both buildings. Commissioner Paul Koeper has also expressed concern with security and structural safety in the event of a major earthquake.

The county government has offices in the county courthouse in Jackson as well as the Common Pleas Courthouse and annex building in downtown Cape Girardeau.

Tracy said an architectural firm would be asked to study the needs of county offices in the past, present and future and that asking for architectural plans for a new courthouse would depend on results of the study.

"We don't need anything necessarily today, but that's not saying what we have today will be suitable in the future," Tracy said. "This is a very long-term plan."

But he said he does expect to ask questions about feasibility of a new courthouse.

As of Wednesday, Tracy said the county is still in negotiations on the subject of the county purchasing Cape Girardeau's former federal building. The building was sold last month for $325,015 in a General Services Administration auction to RDRH Holdings Inc., a corporation based in Austin, Texas. Commissioners have long discussed the building as a possibility for relocation of some county offices until a new consolidated courthouse could be built in Jackson.

The Southeast Missourian filed an open-records request Feb. 23 to get closed-session minutes from meetings the commission has held on the subject of buying the federal building. The county has not yet filled the request, saying the reason was ongoing proceedings. County officials have said that they would respond to the request "in a timely manner" after the deed from the purchase has been filed.

Consolidation of courthouses is permissible by state statute. In 2011, Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 340, which revised language that required the county to hold court and maintain circuit clerk and probate division offices in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

Staff writer Scott Moyers contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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