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Sandusky Municipal Judge: Court badly needs upgrades

Andy Ouriel • Jan 21, 2013 at 5:10 AM

"Do you really understand how crappy it is?" O'Brien said, recalling previous conversations of others complaining to him about the facility's layout and structural integrity.

To remedy the problem, O'Brien recently set out to rally city officials — he wants guidance on whether he should upgrade his current digs in City Hall or build an entirely new courthouse.

"Anything would be better," O'Brien said. "You can let me have an Army surplus tent attached to that building."

Among the courthouse's shortcomings:

- Floor plan: Court offices are scattered throughout City Hall's first floor and are not connected.

- Cramped spaces: O'Brien said he's probably the only judge in Ohio sharing an office with a bailiff.

- Poor security: There are few measures in place to protect workers from possibly agitated people who attend or appear for court hearings.

Case in point: "I hit the panic button 11 months ago and I'm still waiting for a response," O'Brien said.

Any decision on the courthouse depends on what the seven city commissioners have planned for City Hall, a 57-year-old facility. A month ago, talks about a new city headquarters surfaced when officials discussed expanding the court facility.

George Poulos, Sandusky's chief building official under contract, said he'd prefer building an entirely new complex, rather than piecemeal upgrades, since he considers City Hall architecturally inferior.

"I'm not looking to build a $6 million project," Poulos said.

Preliminary estimates on construction costs for a new complex range from $2 million to $4 million.

O'Brien, who oversaw about 15,000 cases in 2012, vowed to contribute $1.85 million of his own court budget for an updated courthouse, be it new or refurbished.

The judge stashed away surplus money from years past, sparing taxpayers from fronting any additional money for the project.

As a comparison, Erie County Municipal Court Judge Paul Lux spent $1.7 million for a revamped courthouse on Mason Road West in Milan Township.

Lux's facility, also paid for with surpluses from years past, should open in the coming weeks.

Over the next six months, O'Brien plans to continue spearheading a fact-finding mission to determine the most economically efficient option. By July he wants answers from commissioners about their direction for City Hall.

"We waited for over 15 years for this," O'Brien said. "Why shouldn't this be something you're proud of and be guaranteed that my staff has a right to work in a place where they can be more efficient?"

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