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City-county building proposed

June 22, 2011

This area recommended for purchase for a possible city-county building. (Photo by Eric Mann)

    "Fix it or move," said Adams Superior Court Judge Patrick Miller.
    "Think broadly," said Adams Circuit Court Judge Fred Schurger, because "where we are today is not where we will be tomorrow."
    No decisions were made at a special session of the Adams County commissioners held on Tuesday, but ambitious plans were revealed to some 45 people, many of them government officials, in a report about an eight-month-long "judicial needs study" by the Schenkel Shultz architectural firm in Fort Wayne.
    The plans mostly dealt with creating the first city-county building in Adams County to unify in one structure not only superior court, part of the county clerk's office, the county probation department, public defender's office, and Community Corrections, but also Decatur City Hall and city police headquarters.
    The recommendation involved the following features:
    • Buy the quarter-block at Third and Madison Sts. from three owners, tear down the buildings, and erect a structure with a basement and two or three stories.
    • The court would be on the top floor, since that's more secure than the ground-floor level the court is on now.
    • City and county offices would be separate, but would share restrooms and perhaps storage space for office materials, etc.
    • Among elevators would be a secure one to shuttle inmates in and out, plus a holding room for inmates.
    • Madison St. could be eliminated between Third St. and the alley between Third St. and Second St., with green space created and some sort of a covered walkway between the new building and the courthouse just across Madison St.
    • The part of the clerk's office that handles superior court cases would be housed with that court, which would provide more room for the clerk's staff in the courthouse.
    • Buildings on the west side of Third St. could be bought and demolished to create more parking spaces. There are two parking lots behind the proposed city-county site that have 75 spaces.
    The costs for such a site are estimated at $4.5 million to $4.6 million, according to Michael Kinder and Sons, a Fort Wayne construction firm.
    Although no formal decisions have been made, David Sholl, an architect at Schenkel Shultz, said that if the process were to start right away, the new building could open in the summer of 2014. Construction would take about one year, he estimated.
    Sholl said the idea for a city-county building grew from the fact that there are so many disadvantages with the former Decatur library that houses Adams Superior Court and the probation department. That edifice opened in 1905.
    Commissioner Ed Coil called the court/probation building "not very structurally sound" and Sholl said it has "many deficiencies." Sholl said Decatur City Hall ought to have more room and the city police station has been in a residential area on N. Third St. for decades and is much too small.
    Commissioner Kim Fruechte suggested that the police station stay where it is until a new county jail is built, then put the Decatur police in that facility.
    Sholl said the aim of the study was "to get a big picture of the criminal justice system" in Adams County by talking to people in nine offices, gaining "a lot of great input from everybody."
    The public defender's office would move two blocks from the Adams County Service Complex and the Community Corrections office would move two blocks from the Star Insurance building at First and Monroe Sts.
    DuWayne Herman, a member of the Adams County Council who was at the meeting, fully agreed that the court/probation building is inadequate and said the problems "need to be addressed sooner rather than later."
    Tim Baker, Decatur City Attorney, said the Schenkel Shultz study came on the heels of a "space needs evaluation" by the city which showed the problems at City Hall and the police station. There is, he stated, no conference room in City Hall and the mayor's office is quite cramped.
    Baker said that having a city-county building "sends a message to everyone" that Decatur and Adams County are looking ahead and local governments work well together.
    The point was made by Sholl that city officials turned down several ideas that would have moved City Hall one block father from the center of downtown. The location on Madison St., a block south of the current City Hall, is as far as city leaders would go, he said.
    In addition, redoing part of Madison St. would be in keeping with beautification and greening efforts in town, said Sholl.

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