Columbia Co. could build new courthouse - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Columbia Co. could build new courthouse

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PORTAGE (WKOW) -- Security and space concerns have Columbia County's Board of Supervisors considering a proposal for new county buildings.

The board met Wednesday morning to hear two proposals of a facilities plan for county offices based in Portage. The plan aims to bring offices together in more centralized locations and improve courthouse security.

Board Chair Andy Ross tells 27 News the county is anticipating future needs, trying to get ahead of any problems.

A board committee checked in with all departments and found Health and Human Services to have the highest potential for growth. The current facility is on the other side of town from the courthouse, which provides challenges for employees who have to work with the courts.

Plus, an aging courthouse can no longer meet security needs. It was built in 1962 and only has one hallway to access all three courtrooms, which means the public, staff and defendants have to walk to the same path to get to court.

"Right now, we can't keep those separate. Everybody is meeting in the same hall out here and it gets tense and you can imagine what might happen, and it has happened in other places," says Ross. "So what we want to do is design it so all three of those functions come together only in the courtroom."

The first of two plans presented to the board Wednesday builds a new courthouse near the Columbia County Jail and Sheriff's Office. It offers deputies easier and faster transportation of inmates to court hearings and stepped up security for other courthouse users. HHS would get a new building downtown near the existing courthouse. The current courthouse will also be used for other county offices.

The second plan builds a new HHS facility at the site of an old grocery store in Portage, now owned by the county. Court offices would remain in the existing building but an addition would be needed to accommodate all the offices that want to be in close proximity to each other. The addition would also offer some added security.

Both plans cost just under $52 million. Ross says the steep price is a needed expense to stay ahead of the issues that will need to be addressed in the near future.

The board will meet to discuss and debate the proposals again at next month's meeting.
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