District courts and the police department are vying for use of vacated municipal court space.
A polite battle for space is being waged at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
An agreement between Douglas County and the city of Lawrence since 1976 has given the city 10,000 square feet of space in the building, but City Manager Mike Wildgen says "it's getting skinnier every year."
When the city moved its municipal court operations in March into an office about a block north on New Hampshire, it decided to relocate the police department's training operations into the vacated space. But 7th Judicial District Administrative Judge Mike Malone objected, concerned not only about losing use of the municipal courtroom but also about having a police presence on the same floor as the county's courts.
Malone reluctantly said he would be willing to have the police training operations situated in the jury assembly area next to his office. But renovating the space into offices would cost about $53,500, and the county isn't sure it wants to spend that kind of money knowing a current space needs study might recommend future expansion.
Wildgen told county commissioners Monday he doesn't care where the police training operations end up -- he just wants the city's share of space.
"They've got to do one or another," the city manager said later, adding, "We're not paying for it."
County Administrator Craig Weinaug told the board he would not recommend renovating the jury assembly space and instead advised letting the police department move into the old municipal court space, despite Malone's concerns.
Malone said impartiality is key to the court system, and "for the public to see a courtroom and its adjoining office staffed with police officers will do nothing but confuse the public as to the role of the judicial branch."
The judge also said police presence is not the only problem.
"Our judicial district is in desperate need of office and courtroom space," he said. "If we lose the use of the old municipal courtroom, we will have a significant scheduling problem."
Commissioners asked whether it might be possible to renovate the jury assembly area at a cost less than estimated by architects from Gould Evans Associates in the space study. When Weinaug reiterated his recommendation and said even $10,000 might be a waste of money because of possible future renovations, Commissioner Mark Buhler turned to him and stressed, "We have heard your recommendation." Buhler told Weinaug he wanted to feel good about spending taxpayer money but also did not want to ignore Malone's concerns. The city is not being unreasonable in its request, he added.
"The city isn't the bad guy," Buhler said. "The reality is the bad guy. Are we getting ready to make a $54,000 mistake? Maybe but maybe not."
Commissioners will reconsider the issue at their meeting at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at the courthouse, 11th and Massachusetts streets.
-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.