Hennepin County court facilities in Edina will no longer be relocated to Bloomington as planned in the next few years, which will force some suburban residents to travel to downtown Minneapolis for their court appointments.
A project to move the courtrooms from the Southdale Library to new quarters at Bloomington Civic Plaza was left on the cutting-room floor during budget negotiations by the Hennepin County Board, which on Tuesday approved the county's 2018 budget.
Bids to build the Bloomington facility came in over $18 million, more than the $11.5 million that county officials had first estimated. That price tag was "really eclipsing anything we thought at least initially we would be spending to do this," County Administrator David Hough said.
The Edina courts are expected to close sometime in 2019 as Hennepin County begins a major renovation of the Southdale building that houses both the library and the courts, Hough said.
When that happens, residents of Edina and St. Louis Park will be sent to the Ridgedale courthouse in Minnetonka, and those living in Bloomington and Richfield will be directed to the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis — about 12 miles from the proposed Bloomington location.
The board's decision to cancel the Bloomington project drew scorn from Richfield Mayor Pat Elliott, who called it "ludicrous" and a "disservice" to Richfield and Bloomington.
"They ought to find the money and they ought to keep the facilities open here," he said. "It's a slap in the face to the citizens."
Elliott, who runs his own law practice, said there have been court facilities in the suburbs south of Minneapolis for decades. To make residents go downtown, he said, "puts a hell of a travel burden and time burden on people."
Hennepin County Commissioner Debbie Goettel, who represents Bloomington and Richfield, said the decision was disappointing but necessary as a cost-saving measure. It was one of numerous budget cuts made in recent weeks, she said.
"I would like to see us have a court down there," she said. "But sometimes … you have to look at the feasibility of things."
'Best value for taxpayers'
Hough informed city managers of the canceled project in late November.
"This decision is the most financially responsible and offers the best value for Hennepin County taxpayers while ensuring safe and easy access to justice," he wrote in a letter to local officials.
The Southdale courts handle non-felony cases, such as misdemeanors and traffic violations, and are also used by residents of Minneapolis and some outer-ring cities. They occupy a relatively small space with dated security, Hough said.
The new courtrooms were planned for a two-story expansion of Bloomington Civic Plaza, home to the city's government offices, with upgraded security and weapons screening.
Hough said he expects the downtown courthouse will be able to handle the bump in cases, especially given the additional space the county will gain at the Thrivent Financial building it recently agreed to purchase.
"With the expansion that's going to take place in the Government Center, there's going to be applicable room for them," he said.
The county has expedited the $1.2 million construction of a third courtroom at the Brookdale facility in Brooklyn Center. The Minnetonka courthouse, located near the Ridgedale Center mall, is also expected to be renovated in the near future, Hough said.
Edina City Manager Scott Neal said it won't be a hassle for Edina residents to go to Minnetonka. "Going downtown would've been a real burden, so I'm glad we weren't reassigned to go downtown," he said.