Owen judicial center begins to take shape

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By Brent Schanding

When Owen County debuts its new $10 million judicial center in the fall of 2011, officials say it will feature state-of-the-art safety devices and exceed the most sensitive environmental standards.

Nearly four years after initial groundwork was laid, the 33,000-square feet building is taking shape on Ky. 22, less than a mile east of downtown.

Steel beams jut from the ground and will eventually support the early American Colonial-style structure that will house a family court room, administrative court offices, a resource center and law library.

The Owen County Circuit Clerk’s staff of five will also relocate to a modern 3,277 square-feet office at the center.

“We’re in great need of room — especially the driver’s license area and record-keeping area,” Owen County Circuit Clerk Leigh New said. “We have to keep so many files, it crams us with storage.”

Once completed, officials expect the building to qualify for Silver LEED certification, an internationally recognized “green” building certification system that gauges eco-friendly construction initiatives. All building materials for the judicial center will be manufactured or harvested within 500 miles of here, according to reports from a site superintendent with Lexington-based Taylor Coates Construction Company.

A LEED rating means the center will be more energy efficient and prove less costly to operate because of its planned geothermal heat pump, ground water recovery and storm water runoff systems. That technology is expected to help offset one-time construction costs for the building.

A 20-year government bond will help cover the $10 million center — with no support from federal or state tax credits. A lease agreement between Owen County and the Administrative Office of the Courts — which will occupy the center — is expected to reduce the need for additional tax hikes, officials said. 

An additional quarter of a million dollars will be needed to furnish the building, officials estimate.

The county’s annual operating budget is about $5 million.

Owen County Judge/Executive Carolyn Keith said she would like to clarify any rumors that the judge’s office will be moving to the new judicial center.

“The only thing that will be leaving is the circuit clerk’s office,” Keith said. “We plan to keep the courtroom the way it is, and our fiscal court meetings will still be held there as well as any other meetings. We’ll also have some new space for things that are a little cramped now, like the county attorney’s office.”

Keith said the latest cost estimate of the building is $12 to $13 million.

“We’re expecting it to be completed in the fall of 2011,” Keith said. “Their target date is October. We were two to three weeks ahead of schedule but there was some problems with concrete and that put us back to the original date.”

Keith has said the new building will address safety concerns by featuring security systems, metal detectors and entry x-ray machines.

Separate access will be designed for judges and incarcerated defendants awaiting court appearances.

Engineers expect the building to serve the county’s needs for the next 150 years.

A site selection committee initially wanted to erect the judicial center on a narrow lot behind the existing courthouse that once housed a gas station.

“With the original site, we wanted to complement the existing courthouse and needed to keep the footprint small to fit into the city block — very tight building dimensions,” Todd Ott, architect with Lexington-based CMW Inc., told county officials.

But environmental assessment reports showed some concerns with that site, and officials ruled it was not suitable for construction.

Planners eventually gained clearance to build on the former Ford farm,  about a mile away from downtown’s centralized government site. It allowed designers to modify building plans and add more parking spaces. 

The old courthouse will continue to house the judge/executive’s office,  county attorney’s office and property valuation administrator’s office.