The Anoka County Courthouse soon will undergo an $8.5 million renovation aimed at improving security and how inmates from the jail next door are moved around the structure.
The four-phase project begins this fall and continues over the next few years.
“The primary focus is to make the courthouse a safer place to work and a safer place for everybody to be,” said Judge Dan O’Fallon. One of the main security concerns has been the closeness between the public and inmates regularly brought into the building via a skyway to the jail, he said.
Although there have been no security crises, the upgrades have been discussed for some years. However, budgets were tight, said County Commissioner Scott Schulte.
In July, a group of judges, court staff and county commissioners presented its recommendations to the County Board after an 18-month study to address security concerns in courtrooms that handle felony arraignments, hearings and trials.
It would have taken $90 million to build a new courthouse, which was deemed far too expensive, Schulte said.
The renovation will include a new courtroom and an elevator designed to transport inmates who are brought to the courthouse via a skyway from the jail, as well as clearer directional signs throughout the courthouse.
“It’s a bit of a difficult courthouse to move through,” O’Fallon said. “That’s a challenge … we are moving inmates all over the place, and that’s a fairly unusual situation. Prisoners are seen walking in the hallways. It happens every day.”
Some funding for the project will come from the county’s building asset preservation fund, but the county will have to issue bonds in 2016 for the remainder of the costs.
Two contracts for architecture and construction management have been awarded to Wold Architects and Engineers for $468,500 and to ICS Consulting for $499,990. Wold Architects has designed other court buildings in Minnesota, including in Washington and Ramsey counties.
Phase by phase
The first phase, beginning this fall, kicks off with construction of a courtroom in vacant third-floor space. Criminal cases then will be heard there while other courtrooms are being remodeled, Schulte said. A law clerk office also will be remodeled.
The second phase includes remodeling two existing courtrooms on the second floor and construction of the elevator for use by inmates brought from the jail to the courthouse via skyway.
The third phase includes renovations to a courtroom on the third floor to provide secure space for in-custody and arraignment hearings as well as a conference room where defense attorneys can meet with their clients.
The fourth and final phase includes remodeling an existing courtroom on the third floor into a secure holding area for prisoners, Schulte said. Plans also call for a sprinkler system on the third floor.
“We’ve made this all work,” O’Fallon said. “But this will make it better.”