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County gets ball rolling for justice center planning

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Leslie Schell

County leaders hope to have answers in the coming months as to whether the current judicial buildings in Sumner County can be adequately renovated or whether an entirely new justice center should be considered.

Members of the county's General Operations and Budget committees voted Monday night to approve $180,000 for a study to be provided by Justice Planning Associates (JPA) out of Nashville. Final approval will still need to come from the full commission.

The move comes after years of spending on a deteriorating county courthouse on the square, as well as more monies on the county jail, they said.

The firm would review the county's existing criminal justice and court system facilities to determine if they should be renovated to meet security and environmental codes; consolidated into a criminal justice center on the jail's property; or if other locations should be considered, according to a scope of work for the project.

"JPA will look at every building we own that has something to do with our judicial system, then they will come back and tell us how to maximize the space," Commissioner Leslie Schell, who chairs the General Operations Committee, said. "We need to approve the money to get it started."

A preliminary assessment by Nashville-based Kennon Calhoun Workshop in December found that it would cost an estimated $10.5 to $13 million to fully renovate the nearly 80-year-old courthouse on the square. The price tag to build a new 45,000-square-foot facility was estimated at $19 to $22.5 million in addition to the cost of purchasing property. James Kennon's services were originally contracted for $40,000, but members of the General Operations Committee said that money was never paid out, since the ad hoc committee decided to go in a different direction.

Commissioner Moe Taylor, who cast the lone vote against the measure, said he was not convinced that spending the additional monies was beneficial.

"We are talking about spending $180,000 for someone to tell us what we can do in the future and we don't get anything but papers and PDF files that we either chose to do something about (or not)," Taylor said. "There's no way we can move the courthouse because we can't afford it. You've got to first get your money together before you plan to spend $180,000."

Schell however, said she disagreed and believed the study was a necessary move for the county to move forward.

"It's not just a piece of paper - we are getting an expert opinion," Schell said. "This is an expert in that field to help us plan and plan well so that we can be good stewards of the taxpayer's money. If we don't have a plan, we can't implement anything.

"Rather than renovating one building that is going to be outdated in 10 years, the ad hoc committee felt it was a wise decision to hire this firm and get us to the decision that is going to get us to 2040. If we don't have a plan, we will never get there. It will end up costing the tax payers more by band aiding it."

The full commission could take up the matter as early as next week.

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