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By John Whitlock
For Owen County Judge-executive Carolyn Keith, the judges who will call it home and countless other state and local officials, the big day had finally arrived.
Friday, the doors of the new Owen County Judicial Center formally opened to the public.
Keith said as she was preparing her remarks for the ceremony, she researched the history of the old Owen County Courthouse and found some similarities.
“In 1857 when the Owen County Courthouse was built, they too were facing tough economic times,” Keith said.
Keith said although the existing courthouse has a lot of “sentimental value,” she is happy to see the courts move to a new facility where safety of the community, the judges and the staff is better addressed.
“There were a lot of security breaches in the old courtrooms,” Keith said. “Here, everyone can be safe and free to conduct their business in a safe environment.”
District Court Judge Thomas Funk said he will certainly appreciate the additional security offered at the new judicial center and recalled an incident from his first day on the bench in Owen County and getting the “stink eye” from defendants and their families.
“I had just sent a guy to jail and that is always tough,” Funk said. “... As I was leaving, there was the sheriff, the suspect and three family members standing there and that’s kinda tough.”
Chief District Judge Elizabeth Chandler approves of the increased security the center offers but her appreciation is also very personal.
“It’ll be good not to have to share a bathroom with the inmates,” Chandler said.
Chief Circuit Court Judge Stephen Bates said the new facility was badly needed because of space limitations and other counties have seen new courthouses built while Owen County languished.
During his remarks, Bates said he wanted address a controversy surrounding the construction of the building.
Bates said he has heard rumblings that some Owen countians had been complaining that the new center was unneeded and the county couldn’t afford it.
The facility was built with state funds and won’t affect local government budgets or taxpayers.
“As Kentuckians, we are all paying for this,” Bates said.
The judges praised the efforts of Keith, her predecessor Billy O’Banion, the members of the local committee and other local officials who shepherded the project to fruition.
“If they had passed on this project, it wouldn’t have saved any money. They just would have moved on to the next project,” Bates said.
The finished facility has impressed Bates.
“In terms of form and function, no one can beat Owen County,” Bates said.
Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court John Minton Jr., who offered the dedication address, said he was happy to be part of the ceremony.
“This is an important moment in the life of Owen County,” Minton said.
Minton said the credit for the new facility extends to Frankfort and recognized the efforts of State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and State Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge.
“Without their support, this would have never happened,” Minton said.
The new judicial center will be a landmark in Owen County and features the latest in computer and environmental technology which will serve the public well for decades to come.
“This is an investment in the future,” Minton said.
As he took in features of the building, Minton said he too was impressed.
“I look around and marvel at the creative genius or the architects and the tradesmen who made this a reality,” Minton said. “It will serve you well.”
Minton said there is one feature the new building will not have that the old building did from time to time.
“We won’t have bats,” Minton said.
The new building will also be a symbol of the American system of justice, Minton said.
“It’s more than the concrete and steel. It’s more than the technology. This building fully symbolizes the power and privilege we enjoy as Americans through our system of government,” Minton said.