Purchase photos

Remodel poses concern for courts





The Ellis County Commission met Tuesday and discussed maintaining a buffer zone around the Ellis County courts' temporary home during renovations to the courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.

Tom Drees, Ellis County attorney, and law enforcement personnel attended to support two judges' arguments for keeping their operations separate from the court system during the yearlong period.

Chief Judge Edward Bouker said it was a matter of ethics. He supported the idea proposed by other stakeholders to house the courts in the basement of the former Commerce Bank Building at 718 Main.

"Those ethical issues require judges to be not exposed to possible evidence that might come before us and to be divided from those persons or entities that might give the appearance of impropriety as we're too closely intertwined with them in any building," Bouker said.

District Court Judge Glenn Braun said he agreed with Bouker.

Commissioner Swede Holmgren said any mistakes could lead to retrials and protracted legal battles.

"What the court system has to tolerate now will try a man's patience, but if we have to retry any number of these cases, both manpower and cost to the county is going to be absolutely horrendous," Holmgren said. "We want to get it right the first time on every single case that we try."

Drees said the N.E.W. Call Center building would need walls to provide privacy because lawyers, victims and others have sensitive conversations. Moving his office out of the courthouse during the renovations could save time and an estimated $750,000, Drees said.

Commissioners debated leasing approximately 22,000 square feet at the former N.E.W. center for LEC and county attorney staff. They would need approximately 11,000 square-feet of the area.

The temporary office sites were not determined, and commissioners suggested holding a special meeting if necessary. Other possible lease locations will be considered.

In other business:

* Commissioners accepted a $7.1 million bid from MW Builders to renovate the LEC, the courthouse and the area between the two buildings. The finalized contract will need the commission's approval. The contractor will have 325 days to complete the project after the start date is determined.

* Mike Graf, Ellis County Public Works director, updated the commissioners on upcoming projects.

He chose a 40-foot timber bridge in the 900 block of Emmeram, and the Kansas Department of Transportation would pay $120,000 of the $140,000 cost.

Three culverts in the 1800 block of 110th will be updated.

Commissioners asked him to move forward with getting estimates on upgrading 230th Avenue, 55th and Feedlot Road.

* Representatives with the Ellis County Fair Board and Ellis County Extension office shared an idea for naming the new 4-H food stand. The plan would allow the unnamed donor, who has pledged to pay at least half of the $50,000 project, to name the structure.

Commissioners approved the plan.

* Commissioners renewed a three-year contract for the Kansas non-state employee health plan.

* Commissioners heard about a plan to set up the phone system at the N.E.W. building if it is chosen as the temporary office for county staff. The success of the switch could encourage a permanent change for other agencies.

Commissioners also want county staff to have the option of using a county email address.

* Two 15-minute executive sessions took place to discuss non-union employees and attorney-client issues. No action was taken.