With only weeks until city officials move into the new Marietta Municipal Court, the more than $3.3 million project is getting its finishing touches.
Nearing completion after more than nine months of construction, the new municipal court facility at 259 Butler St. is in many regards a state-of-the-art facility - especially when compared with the current court at 301 Putnam St.
In 2006, a writ of mandamus lawsuit was filed by a Marietta resident to force the city to provide handicapped accessible municipal court facilities.
New Marietta Municipal Court
Renovation of the former Ohio Bureau of Employment Services building on the corner of Third and Butler Streets was selected as the method to meet those requirements.
With that renovation, the municipal court has added several features, with a key focus on the safety of the court and the public.
"We went to a lot of courtrooms and we saw what kind of security they have," said Marietta Municipal Court Administrator Jason Hamilton. "We were able to model some things that will be good for safety."
KEVIN PIERSON The Marietta Times
Construction workers install a privacy guard on a chain-link fence surrounding the prisoner entrance to the Marietta Municipal Court in the sally port of the facility at 259 Butler St., Marietta, on Thursday.
One of the key security features installed in the new court is a secured prisoner elevator. Through a chain-link fence-secured entrance in the sally port of the facility, prisoners can be brought in by law enforcement and taken directly to court without ever being in contact with the general public or the judge. In the current facility, the must walk by members of the public waiting outside the courtroom.
"You don't have inmates, defendants, mingling with the victims, witnesses," said Marietta Municipal Court Chief Probation Officer Dale Willson. "It's more secure than what it is now."
The prisoner elevator leads directly to the second floor and a secured room adjacent to the magistrate court room. Prisoners can be held in that room until their scheduled court appearance.
The new Municipal Court
Located at 259 Butler St., the new Municipal Court located in the former OBES building is due to open sometime in May.
Cost of the renovation to the OBES building to house the court is estimated at a little more than $3.3 million.
The project is set to be paid off over a period of 20 years, with payment this year of $35,678 from the city and $131,822 from municipal court funds.
Features of the new court include a secured elevator for prisoners, office space to house the probation department, court officials and city law director, security cameras, two separate court rooms, conference rooms and fully ADA accessible features.
Source: Times research, Marietta Municipal Court
The new court will also make use of key-card entrances, which can electronically monitor usage of the court facilities.
"It really tells us who goes in. It's an identifier," Hamilton explained.
Key-card entry on doors have been used in some areas of the current municipal court since 2006, Willson said.
Public entry into the court takes place off of the Butler Street parking lot, which prompted an address change on the facility. When OBES used the building, its address was 217 Third St., and it has been changed to accommodate the new entrance.
Once in the building, an electronic scanner similar to what is in place in airports will check for metal and other illicit objects on those entering.
Stairs and the elevator in the lobby lead to the second floor, which houses the bulk of the court operations. There are three conference rooms for attorneys to meet with clients outside the two courtrooms, and offices to house the Marietta city law director's office, the probation department and information technology staff.
A monitoring station is also set up to help track activities in the courthouse.
"We have cameras situated throughout the court facility and outside," Willson said.
Both courtrooms are fully handicapped accessible, with ramps leading to the bench in case a judge or lawyer was confined to a wheelchair. Railings trimmed in wood highlight the court rooms, and wood trim can be found throughout the new facility.
A jury room is housed between the magistrate courtroom and the municipal courtroom, and includes a small kitchenette as well as a private restroom for jurors.
Much of the layout of the new facility was designed with the idea of maintaining privacy for all parties involved, unlike the current court where conversations between attorneys and clients often take place in the hallway outside the courtroom, said Hamilton.
"Unfortunately, one person's business is everybody's business (there)," he said.
A victim assistance office is located just outside the courtrooms as well, which can provide comfort to the victim of crime as well as a place away from the alleged perpetrator of the crime.
"It can eliminate some of those emotions that build up just by keeping people separate," Hamilton said.
The new municipal court facility is expected to be done with construction this month, and Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar-Welch has said she anticipates a move-in date in May.
Willson said he has been in contact with the Ohio Supreme Court to help plan security at the facility, which has been deemed a problem in the current court.
"This (new court) will make everybody safer," Willson said.