Final Phase of Courthouse Renovation Starting 10/29/18 10/29/18 11:47:06 AM
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Ron Murtaugh, judicial administrator for Douglas County Court, shows off a portion of the floor mosaic being covered by a temporary structure to be used by cashiers and clerks during upcoming Douglas County Courthouse renovations.
Courtroom 625 was completed during the first of three phases of a $16 million renovation of the Douglas County Courthouse. (Photos by Scott Stewart)
Final Phase of Courthouse Renovation Starting
By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record
No, the Douglas County Courthouse is not building a Scooter’s in its public entryway.
Instead, a temporary structure will hold displaced workers during the next phase of a more than $16 million renovation project, which is expected to wrap up next year.
Douglas County Court Judicial Administrator Ron Murtaugh said recent work has been focused on the west side of the second floor – 2 West – where Courtrooms 26, 27, 28 and 29 will be located along with six judges and their bailiffs.
One new courtroom is already up and running, which has allowed criminal and traffic cases to be moved from a third-floor courtroom where probate cases are handled.
“We anticipate that we’ll be moved in and all the courtrooms will be (ready) by the second week of November,” Murtaugh said.
The new courtrooms will provide enhanced security, allowing the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office to have better control over inmates as they interact with court officers and the public. Murtaugh said the renovated
courtrooms are built around a secure corridor, along with alarms and secured access points.
“If you imagine it as an onion, the outer layer of the onion is the judges and the bailiffs,” Murtaugh said. “The next layer inside that onion is the secure block facilities that’s under the command and control of the sheriff’s department. The very inside piece of the onion is the four courtrooms.”
That will mean inmates won’t be walking past the public, or judges and bailiffs, on their way to court. In fact, the secured corridors will mean fewer instances of inmates waiting in a courtroom before their case is called because they can be escorted into the courtroom quickly from the new secured areas.
After the courtrooms are finished, work will begin on the city prosecutor’s office and new cashIering, administration, records and clerk’s offices. The cashiers and others working with the public at windows on the main floor of the courthouse will be relocated to the temporary structure on the second floor.
The filing activities will be moved to the lunchroom of the civic center side of the facility. Attorneys filing paperwork for continuances, officers turning in search warrants and affidavits, and similar business will be taken directly to that temporary lunchroom space.
Murtaugh said the court administration office will move to an unused space on the civic center side. That will just involve moving a desk, not any temporary construction. He said he expects to be displaced for 12 to 18 months.
Pat Herzog, the chief facilities manager of the Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission, said it shouldn’t even be that long.
Work should conclude next summer, with the administrative staff moving into their new space by July 2019, Herzog said. He said La Vista-based All Purpose Construction is on track with the project, which he said will total an estimated $16.8 million for three phases.
Murtaugh said efforts have been made to save money on the temporary spaces. Desks are being moved from the old locations, and the temporary window space doesn’t have its own heating or cooling.
History is a concern for the renovation process, too.
Murtaugh said contractors have taken care to preserve the floor mosaic that’s covered by the temporary
structure. The courthouse is 106 years old, and the mosaic welcomes visitors who enter through the main doors off Farman Street to the courthouse’s second floor.
So far, the renovation has improved security and processes elsewhere
in the courthouse. Murtaugh said the first phase of the project involved the construction of a courtroom on the sixth floor that is linked to holding cells. That courtroom is used for first appearances and preliminary hearings, he said.
Courtroom 625, which opened last year, features a glass partition that separates families and visitors from the rest of the courtroom – preventing disruptions and allowing deputies to better manage some of the emotions of loved ones associated with court appearances.
The courtroom also has a small room for attorneys to have quick, private conversations with their clients.
All the new courtrooms also have been fitted with accessible witness stands, with most using lifts to allow those in wheelchairs to position themselves by the microphone.
Murtaugh said Douglas County also operates a courtroom at the county jail, which saves the work and cost of moving inmates from the facility for first appearances, bond hearings and routine matters.
The new security improvements bring those efficiencies and safer procedures to the courthouse, following
a national trend of building safer and more efficient court facilities.
Once the work is done, the courthouse space will be easier to navigate for everyone involved in legal proceedings.
As the construction wraps up, though, Murtaugh said it’s important for the court to still provide access to services where the public expects them, so costly mistakes don’t happen. That’s why the temporary structure is going up and why courtrooms have been shuffled throughout the renovation process.
“People get lost because it is such big real estate,” Murtaugh said. “The last thing we want them to do is get lost and get a warrant out for their arrest when it is not their fault.”