Study will consider court consolidation

Elkhart Truth file photo All options are on the table in a study of Elkhart County courthouse facilities, officials say.  

GOSHEN — All options are on the table in a study of court facilities in Elkhart County, including consolidation, say county officials.

The Elkhart County Commissioners on Monday approved a $45,000 contract with PMSI USA for an in-depth study of the courts, with an eye toward the potential consolidation of the courts and support services into a single facility. It’s the first of a possibly two-phase project involving the Noblesville company, which the county has used in the past for projects involving jail facilities.

“I think the question on everybody’s mind is, what are we studying?” Commissioner Mike Yoder said after the vote. “We are taking a look at the space in our courtrooms, how they’re being utilized, the possibility of consolidation. This is just a preliminary study, because we have old buildings.”

He said after the meeting that the study will focus on court space, safety and efficiency.

“I’ve always felt like our job as commissioners is to provide the space that the judges need to safely and efficiently conduct their business,” he said. “And that’s part of what we’re doing right now, is determining that, based on their recommendations.”

Commissioner Suzie Weirick said the study started in early October with one-on-one interviews with judges and county employees.

“The judges are definitely collaborating – how they use the space, how they’d like to use the space. And the firm will also anticipate where needs are,” she said. “The question is, one courthouse or two separate ones? Or that is one of the questions.”

The study will consider all options for court facilities, she said. That includes using either of the two existing courthouses or building a new combined one.

“Yes and yes and yes. All options are being considered,” she said. “It’s the only way to make the best decision.”

‘Investigate some options’

Phase 1 of the study includes an analysis of the courts and support services to explore the feasibility of consolidation, on the one hand, and on the other hand an analysis to explore the continued operation of two separate court buildings. The advantages and disadvantages of both will be evaluated.

The Elkhart County Courthouse in Goshen now houses Circuit Court and Superior 3 and 4. A newer courts building in Elkhart houses Superior 1, 2, 5 and 6.

There are additional courtrooms in the county’s jail facilities, which are used by judges as needed.

The first phase of the study also includes preliminary recommendations, planning, budget and schedule considerations for a project implementing a court and court services model after conferring with county officials on a preferred option, the contract states.

Yoder said any recommendations to come out of the study will be presented to the Elkhart County Council, which would have to approve funding. He expects a report to be ready in January or February.

“We’re actually toward the end of it right now, to the point where we can begin making some decisions or investigate some options,” he said. “Now we’re at the point where we have a good idea of our space needs, and now we’re trying to figure out the best options to look at to try to satisfy those needs.”

If the county decides to continue with a project involving the courts, Phase 2 will include planning, design and construction help. PMSI would manage the project, providing contractor oversight and reporting on the progress to county officials.

It will also explore alternative designs or construction methods that could save costs or resolve problems that arise.

The county’s fee to PMSI would be 2 percent of the total construction cost.

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