Courthouse expansion delights employees

Monday, March 16, 2009 | 1:04 p.m. CDT; updated 8:54 a.m. CDT, Thursday, March 19, 2009

The third-floor courtroom was revamped as part of the Boone County Courthouse renovation, which began in October 2007. The courtroom was updated with new technologies that could make trials more efficient. Click on the black squares with the "v" symbol embedded in the panorama to read detailed information on each piece of new technology. See more multimedia from the renovation here.

COLUMBIA — When Boone County voters approved a one-fifth-cent sales tax in 2006 to pay for a major expansion of the courthouse, there was one benefit they probably didn’t have in mind: a much happier work force.

Every department now enjoys a larger work space. Many employees who were in cubicles now occupy private offices. Workers on the new fourth floor, now the prosecuting attorney's office, have key cards to access the office area and visitors without authorization are kept out.

“In our new office, we now have five private interview rooms where we can do confidential interviews, and we did not have that in our other space,” said Bonnie Adkins, the office administrator for the prosecuting attorney.

During a recent tour of the larger, dressed-up courthouse, staff members in various departments repeatedly expressed their appreciation for their new work environment.

"The new courtroom and juror space and the improved office spaces are very nice,” Court Marshal Les Werner said. “I just want to emphasize to taxpayers that we really appreciate everything that they did to see this through. It was something that was really needed."

The changes didn’t come cheap. Kathy Lloyd, the Boone County Court services administrator, estimated the final cost to be about $9.4 million — the amount budgeted for the project.

Work on the courthouse began in October 2007. The expansion, which focused primarily on the courthouse annex on the north side of the building, included the addition of a new fourth floor, new wings on the first, second and third floors and renovation of the basement, which is now the juvenile department.

Although the courthouse is much larger now, the expansion appears seamless. Contractors worked to make the stonework on the new floor and wings perfectly match the exterior of the existing courthouse.

Inside, it’s about much more than decor. New additions include a technologically savvy courtroom and an information technology training room. The juvenile justice department has been renovated, along with the jury area and all courtrooms and offices.

It all began in 2005, when the Space Needs Committee, appointed by the Boone County Commission, recommended a series of improvements to the courthouse and work on other county-owned buildings.

At the courthouse, nearly all employees are excited about the technological advances to the third-floor courtroom. Witnesses, attorneys and judges now have computer screens that allow for annotation, a tool that could prove useful during trials. A witness being questioned, for example, could circle on a map the location from which they saw a crime, and then the judge could print it out from the bench and add it to the evidence file in the case.

The courtroom also features televisions for the gallery and the jury, a new high-definition camera, a media room with robotic remotes for the cameras and an audiovisual projector that allows attorneys to display documents or PowerPoint presentations stored on their laptops.

Along with these new additions, the new courtroom has the capability for remote appearances by attorneys that are working on cases in another county.

Many county employees were displaced during the construction and are relieved to be in their new offices. All offices received major improvements. Pete Bakutes, the court services supervisor, moved to the third floor during the renovations and then back to the first floor, where his office was originally.

Bakutes' office now has high-quality video connection to the Boone County Jail. Bakutes said this makes work quicker, cheaper and, most importantly, safer for officers.

Werner said he’s happy about beefed-up security throughout the building, mainly the addition of more security cameras and screens. These security measures allow officers to monitor more of the building at all times.

Werner’s office now is attached to the new jury area, which allows his staff to provide better service to jurors and make more efficient use of juror time. 

Along with the building improvements, the court is implementing a new jury selection process that allows each court to choose from the same pool of prospective jurors so fewer people are required for the selection.

Citizens called in for jury duty will notice faster check-in procedures and a much nicer, lounge-like waiting area.

“They have much more space than they previously had, and it’s much nicer for them,” Lloyd said.

Some departments that were displaced from the courthouse during the construction have recently been allowed to return. The juvenile courtroom and offices, for example, were moved out of the courthouse almost 17 months ago but were allowed to return at the end of January.

Cindy Garrett, Boone County juvenile supervisor, said the new juvenile area allows much more privacy for minors and their families. New holding areas and back entrances to the juvenile courtroom also protect minors’ identity and privacy.

"Our surroundings here at the juvenile office are so much more relaxing," said Duputy Juvenile Office Rick Gaines. "We are so appreciative of the county residents for providing funding."

Bakutes said there’s a noticeable difference in the attitudes of courthouse employees.

“One of the interesting results is that the morale of the employees has gone up,” he said.

Now that the courthouse expansion is complete, Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said the county plans to focus next on finishing and filling the third-floor of the Boone County Government Center, which has been vacant since it was built in the mid-1990s.

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