When Toledo Municipal Court opened its doors in 1975, about 10,000 civil and criminal cases were filed every year.
Thirty-seven years and hundreds of thousands of prisoners and visitors later, the building still has the same space, the same infrastructure, and in some cases, even the same fixtures, but 10 times the caseload.
With only one remodeling project in the mid-1980s, the building is overdue for an upgrade, municipal court officials said. Now, at just the starting stages, officials hope to garner awareness of the building’s inadequacies and support for a new structure.
“A court should look like a court. This place looks like a bus station,” said Judge Michael Goulding, the presiding judge. “This building wasn’t built for this sort of traffic.”
Those who work in the municipal court on Erie Street say it’s time to stop ignoring the building’s problems. Not only is it stuffed to the seams, but officials said the creative ways the court has crammed in staff and storage has led to safety concerns.
Down a narrow staircase off the building’s main floor into the basement, defendants meet with probation officers, each delegated a small, windowless office. Along a hall and through a locked door is a large, dark room where shelving built nearly to the unfinished ceiling is crammed with thousands of active cases held by the clerk of courts.
Forget about finding a furnace. The building’s temperature is controlled with baseboard heat and individual space heaters.
But officials say the crowded halls, where defendants, victims, and the public can’t help but interact, most demonstrate the building’s safety inadequacies.
Jean Atkin, the former Lucas County Common Pleas Court administrator, recently finished a report assessing the needs of those using and working in municipal court. She concluded that “the building is more than overcrowded. It is operationally obsolete.”
“The Toledo Municipal Court building is worn-out and is on the verge of becoming totally dysfunctional,” the report said. “Immediate action needs to be taken to provide, as required by Ohio law, ‘suitable accommodations for the municipal court and its officers.’ ”
City Councilman D. Michael Collins said he has been aware of the problems in municipal court since a 2000 study he participated in as a member of Citizens for Effective Government. He said it’s only natural that the problems have become worse.
As chairman of the public safety committee, Mr. Collins said he intends to call a committee meeting by the end of the year to discuss the courthouse. His goal is to have firm plans for the building by mid-2013.
“Not only are we in dire need of a facility that can handle that responsibility of the government but we must have an environment that enforces the respect of the court,” he said.
Armed with several reports, including the court’s 2011 annual report, a 2004 Toledo Municipal Court Building Utilization study, and a 2005 Toledo Civic Center Mall Utility Study, Judge Goulding said he hopes to begin garnering interest in the future of the municipal court building.
In anticipation of the need for a new building, Judge Goulding said the judges have been putting aside portions of court-controlled special projects funds to help fund architectural work. The court has about $4 million for the project.
“It’s not enough for a new building, but just to get started,” the judge said. “It’s a challenge to come up with the money, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.