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Published: Wednesday, 9/1/2004

New court study gets council's fast track

Toledo City Council agreed yesterday to a speeded-up vote next week on a $163,750 study of constructing a new Toledo Municipal Court in conjunction with a new Lucas County jail.

Council informally agreed to vote on the municipal court construction study, instead of the usual practice of reading a proposed ordinance in two council meetings.

If approved, council would join the county in funding a study by Poggemeyer Design Group Inc. for conceptual design of a new jail and a new municipal court on the Civic Center Mall.

"This is a golden opportunity for the city of Toledo to work with the county commissioners to save a little money," Toledo Municipal Court Judge Gene Zmuda told council.

A new courthouse would cost about $50 million, according to the Poggemeyer study.

Where the money would come from is not clear. Council President Louis Escobar said the money may have to come from the city's capital improvements budget, but "the study is going to tell us of other avenues of resources."

The county commissioners voted Aug. 24 to spend an additional $55,800 for Poggemeyer to study combining the jail with the municipal court. The county has a $232,000 contract with Poggemeyer.

Half the city's $163,750 share would come from the Municipal Court Special Projects Fund and half from a fund set up for municipal court renovation in the capital improvements budget.

The tentative plan is to build the facility on the mall, with one possible site being the corner of Cherry and Erie streets, currently the site of the Toledo-Lucas County health department.

Judge Zmuda said one reason to combine the two buildings is to save transportation costs. He said that 70 percent of the jail's population goes to municipal court every day. Currently, the jail and the courthouse are connected by a tunnel.

Another problem, he said, is that municipal court could lose access to its basement parking garage entrance under a land swap that took place in 2000. The city traded property in the mall to the federal government for the land under the old Federal Building on Summit Street.

Judge Zmuda said the notice to vacate could come in 2008 if the federal government decides to start construction of a new federal courthouse on Cherry Street in 2009.

Mayor Jack Ford supports studying a joint jail and courthouse, Safety Director Joe Walter said.

"He is concerned about the long-range implications of how we fund it, but he knows to do a joint facility makes sense," Mr. Walter said. "This study is going to look at whether we can build on this site."

The 28-year-old building, according to Poggemeyer's municipal court study commissioned last year at a cost of $185,000, has a space shortage of 51,000 square feet, with the crowding expected to grow.

The county expects to spend at least $50 million on a new jail.

A federal courthouse, which is to replace one built in 1932, is being planned for a seven-acre site at the north end of the mall between the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals building and the health department.



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