Concerns over space and security have leaders in Columbia County considering a new courthouse.
Some of the concerns are over space, with county administrative offices sharing space at the courthouse, but also, there are some security concerns.
The Frederick Administration Building has long been much more than a courthouse.
“I think they’re looking at, 'We can fix one thing, but we still have another issue. Are we better off doing everything at once?'” Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said.
The building is home to numerous county agencies, but the downside to that efficiency is that it means those there paying their property taxes could rub elbows with prisoners heading to court.
“I give credit because they’re trying to stay ahead, look at things that could be done, get something done before something serious happens” Richards said.
The county asked for input, but Richards said he will leave it to others to decide on a new courthouse.
Former Columbia County District Attorney Mark Bennett said the price tag for a new building is too high.
“It is reasonable for there to be renovation for the courthouse to be made more secure than it is now, that can be done without building a new courthouse,” Bennett said.
Instead of spending $20 million on a new building, alternatives could include a bigger budget to staff metal detectors or a specific drop-off area for prisoner transfers.
“I don’t think it’s very often that they have a very high-risk inmate that they need to bring to the courthouse,” Bennett said. “No one’s complaining. There is no outcry that I’m aware of from the public.”
Taxpayers will ultimately have to make the choice.
“If we continue the way things are where it’s at, we will continue to make it as safe as we possibly can with the way the building is set up and with the staffing that we have,” Richards said.
The courthouse is one issue Columbia County officials are looking in to. They are also trying to figure out where to put the county’s health and human services, and land and water conservation departments, which are currently in space too small to meet their needs.