County approves $51 million in bonds for new courthouse

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

The Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

On Thursday, after conducting a public hearing Douglas County commissioners approved $51 million in bonds to build a new courthouse, the fourth built expressly for the purpose in county history.

Design work on a new judicial center could be done by next spring after county commissioners voted to seek $51 million in financing on Thursday.

“We are working through the design right now,” County Manager Jenifer Davidson said. “We have some significant design issues to work through with the users’ groups of that building. We anticipate moving to final design this spring with fingers crossed.”

Approving the financing won’t be the last time commissioners discuss the courthouse, which Davidson described as one of the most complex projects the county will work on.

“There are rising construction costs going on right now, so this is a bit of a moving target. This is just one step in a multi-step process.”

Chief Financial Officer Terri Willoughby told commissioners the county can’t enter a construction contract until funding is available.

Commissioner Sharla Hales said that if the judicial center is the most expensive project in county history, it’s because things get more expensive the longer you wait to build them.

She likened it to a hospital.

“When you need it, you need it to be functioning and functioning well,” she said. “It is our job to provide a means of justice.”

Commission Chairman Mark Gardner agreed.

“The cost is going up by the day and we need to pull the trigger,” he said. “It’s time we stop kicking this can down the road. The current center is outdated.”

The two resolutions, one for $37 million and another $14 million were approved on Thursday.

Willougby said the county has a revenue source to fund the bonds.

“We’ve been very conservative in debt issuance and continue to be,” Willougby said. “These bonds do allow for us to refund them if the interest rate goes down.”

Davidson said that her office is working on a web site including information going back to the initial presentation by the judges in 2014.

The present Judicial & Law Enforcement Center was built in 1982 after a successful ballot initiative.

More than 40 years later, courtroom facilities on the second floor of the building are cramped and there’s no way to keep defendants, witnesses, victims and jurors from mingling in the hallways.

When judges conduct trials, they have to call 100-150 jurors who all turn up at the same time for selection in the morning.

The new judicial center would be built on land purchased from Park Ranch Holdings for $5 million last year.


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