County looks to past studies for courthouse ideas

Shawano Leader/December 18, 2008

A consulting firm will take a fresh look at some old studies before drafting a new recommendation on space and security needs at the Shawano County Courthouse and Sheriff's Department.

By a vote of 25-4, county supervisors Wednesday approved spending up to $39,500 to have Ayers Associates, Inc. review past proposals for addressing security and space deficiencies at the two buildings. The firm will provide the county's Ad Hoc Projects Study Committee with options and cost estimates.

District 4 supervisor and committee member Aaron Wallrich said the study would give the county information needed to determine a course of action, "whether it's a security overhaul or something more than that."

Among the past studies the consultants will review is one that eventually led to a recommendation to build a $9.6 million justice center.

The County Board had approved constructing the justice center in 2002 - after having rejected the proposal in 2001 - but supervisors were unable to gather enough votes for the required three-fourths majority to approve selling bonds for the project.

The proposal was revived in 2003, but after several months of debate, supervisors rejected both the $9.6 million justice center and a scaled down sheriff's department expansion estimated to cost approximately $4.4 million.

County Vice Chairman Arlyn Tober said the cost of a new justice center in today's dollars now makes that an unlikely alternative.

"A new courthouse is out of reach," he said.

Some supervisors questioned why the county needs to hire a consulting firm to review past studies that cost the county about as much as the new consultants.

"We're right back where we were," said District 12 supervisor Cliff Powers.

"This is like 'Groundhog Day,'" said District 1 supervisor Deb Noffke, referring to a comedy film where the main character keeps repeating the same day.

"If this was done five years ago, how much has changed?" said District 11 supervisor Bob Krause. "How will spending this money make this report any different?"

County Chairman Marshal Giese said security has become a bigger issue since then. "A lot of stuff has happened just over the last couple of months," Giese said. "It's concerning, what's going on around here."

For several weeks recently, the county closed down all entrances to the courthouse but one, and a sheriff's deputy was stationed to admit visitors and courthouse employees through a rented metal detector.

The enhanced security measure came amid an FBI investigation into an alleged "implied threat" against 60 Shawano area residents, including government officials.

Sheriff Randy Wright, speaking to a reporter outside Wednesday's meeting, would not comment on the investigation, which has been going on since early November. Nor would he say whether the recent removal of the metal detector - which had initially been brought in for a two-week rental - indicated the so-called threat level was now lower.

District 16 supervisor Marlin Noffke said he hoped the county was not being influenced by the threat investigation.

"I hope this isn't a knee-jerk reaction to the ... situation," he said, adding he personally doesn't feel threatened.

Some space and security options were discussed Wednesday, with some supervisors expressing support for discontinuing the street between the courthouse and sheriff's department and joining the two buildings.

Wallrich said all options would be considered and the recommendations would likely take a "tiered" approach with security concerns to be addressed first.

Marlin Noffke, Deb Noffke, District 28 supervisor Wayne Thoma and District 30 supervisor Jon Zwirschitz - voted against hiring the consultants.

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