Houghton County discusses ARPA funds, courthouse

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette 97th District Court Magistrate Nickole Jollimore asks the Houghton County Board to approve upgrades to the county courthouse. The board will discuss the changes, including making the courthouse single-entry, at a work session on American Rescue Plan Act funding later this month.

To address courthouse safety needs, members of a county committee came up with three recommendations: reinforcing security at the district court and the magistrate’s office, and creating a single point of entry on the building’s first floor.

Staff would be added at the entrance point for screening. Existing entrances to the building would be reinforced to make them more secure.

Early estimates put the cost at $500,000 to $750,000, said architect Karin Cooper of U.P. Engineers & Architects.

Security improvements are sorely needed, said 97th District Court Magistrate Nickole Jollimore.

“You would not believe how angry somebody can get about a 5-mile-per-hour speeding ticket,” she said. “Believe me, I’ve seen it. The explicit names we’re called by some never ceases to amaze us … we work as a team and do what it takes to get the job done, hopefully making things a little better in the process. We’re just asking to be protected and feel safe when we go about doing that job.”

Some residents at the meeting questioned why the county was upgrading the courthouse when it is looking to potentially relocate court offices. The Sharon Avenue site being explored by the county for a new jail could also potentially hold a new district court, and would have enough land for an eventual new courthouse.

“Why would you invest that much money in the current (courthouse) if you’re planning on a new one?” asked MaryEllen Hyttinen.

Those upgrades would be years or decades away, while security issues in the courthouse could happen any time, Chair Tom Tikkanen said.

“I would encourage anyone from the general public to spend a day in the Houghton County courthouse, especially on a court day,” he said. “Ride the elevator up and down to all five levels, and enjoy the company and the new friends you’re making.”

Commissioner Kevin Codere suggested exploring whether security upgrades that could be repurposed if the court facilities move to a new building.

The board took no action Tuesday, but will discuss courthouse upgrades at an upcoming work group session on ARPA proposals. The meeting is planned for noon Aug. 22.

The county has been in negotiations with the First Apostolic Luthernan Church on Sharon Avenue for property for a prospective jail. The church board will meet to discuss the possible sale before bringing it to the full congregation, Britz said. An agreement could come to the Houghton County Board at its September meeting.

The current jail was found in compliance at its annual Michigan Department of Corrections inspection Monday, Sheriff Joshua Saaranen said. However, the inspector mentioned he would have side notes in his report.

In a conversation with Saaranen, the inspector said the jail had outlived its usefulness. He also saw potential problems in the future regarding the classification of inmates, which is used to determine who is placed together in cells.

“If we were found non-compliant in that, we would really open up the county and the facility to a lot of potential litigation, civil litigation in the future,” Saaranen said.


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