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Archive for Sunday, November 22, 1998

OFFICIALS HOPE TO CONQUER SPACE CRUNCH WITHOUT DIVISION

November 22, 1998

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There are many options for easing the space crunch at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, but most officials favor keeping together the agencies presently using the building.

When Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney Tonkovich's new victim witness advocate comes on board in January, the new staffer will have to float around, using whatever telephones and work spaces are available because a real office won't be an option.

Sheriff Loren Anderson says his detectives are so scrunched for space they're virtually on top of each other.

And Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin points out that 13 investigators, a detective sergeant and a secretary work out of the same room, a 670-square-foot space.

At the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, elbow room is the stuff of fantasies.

"Virtually every department in that building needs space of some type," county administrator Craig Weinaug said last week.

Officials prefer togetherness

The county is undergoing a space study that eventually will determine whether officials should expand the judicial center or construct a new building.

Weinaug points out that neither law enforcement alone nor the courts alone are expected to fill the current building in the next 40 years. But together, the picture's different.

Tonkovich would like to have an office for her new witness advocate.

Anderson would like to give his detectives and deputies more room.

Olin, whose department operates in about 7,500 square feet, would like the 34,000 square feet an architect said the department needs based on today's number of personnel.

That's what they want.

Reality is another story.

Officials say the best-case scenario probably would be to expand the judicial center, built as a county-city joint venture in 1976.

"There are many advantages to having police, the sheriff's department and the Douglas County emergency communications and emergency center together in the same facility," Olin said. "Whether or not we are going to expand here or at a different location, or whether we're going to be in multiple locations is exactly what's under discussion. There are very significant, positive points to having the emergency services I just named together, but sometimes, as we all know, those ideals are not always possible in reality."

Anderson and Tonkovich agree it just makes sense to keep both city and county law enforcement together with the courts.

A space study the county is undergoing will help determine solutions to the space problem.

"I hope and prefer that we expand and stay together," Weinaug said.

Four expansion options

Weinaug said there are four obvious options for an addition.

All three floors of the building -- including the basement -- could be expanded east about 50 feet, giving the center an additional 25,000 square feet, Weinaug said. That could be accomplished without building forward into the neighboring residential area, he said.

An expansion to the south, but not of the entire length of the building, also is a possibility. That would put the police department in the basement level, but Weinaug said the basement's on a grade that would allow a ground-level entrance.

Architects also could design an addition to the west between the judicial center and the courthouse, but that would eat up green space, and Weinaug said that option probably would create the most public outcry.

Building up is a fourth alternative. The center's foundation footings can accommodate a third level, or fourth level if you include the basement. But that's a pretty big project, Weinaug said.

It's the one favored by Anderson, who estimates his additional space needs to be the equivalent of about four good-sized offices.

"I think it's important for everybody to stay together, and I still like the idea of putting a third level on this building because of the money spent initially to give it space for that," Anderson said, noting the building's elevators were designed for another floor. "There's even a button for it."

Officials face realities

The district attorney's new victim witness advocate probably will float around for a while, Tonkovich said in a recent interview.

"I think at this point they'll be sharing space either in the break room where the law and file clerks work or in the current victim witness coordinator's office," Tonkovich said. "We may for a while treat it like a floater situation, whatever phone or work station is available."

It's not ideal, Tonkovich says, but it'll work.

"Most of our office space is kind of multifunctional anyway," she said. "My office also serves as the conference area. The library is in a hallway. The break room is the file room and where two part-time and one full-time staff members work out of. We have a lot of areas that we just share because there's no other choice."

Although Tonkovich admits she likes "to argue that I'm in the worst shape, I know there are offices in much tighter quarters than we are."

Seventh Judicial District Administrative Judge Mike Malone has campaigned to use the city's former municipal court area -- vacated when a new municipal court building was opened recently -- to ease the district court's space woes. The Lawrence Police Department has expressed interest in it for training operations.

The county commission recently authorized Weinaug to offer the city, guaranteed 10,000 square feet of space per a 1973 agreement, a one-time payment of $30,000 to essentially lease the municipal court area for county use.

City manager Mike Wildgen said last week that Lawrence officials were drafting a response to the offer.

If the city agrees to move the police training operations into a jury assembly area in the basement -- which Olin said would need significant upgrades -- the municipal court area would be up for grabs. Malone has his eyes on that space, and so does Tonkovich.

"Everyone has needs here, and I don't want to make any unreasonable requests of the commissioners," Tonkovich said. "If that space is put on the table, I will definitely make a request."

The police department's space situation has been in crisis since 1990, Olin said.

Building a substation could help.

"That would be a solution if we decide that the existing law enforcement center will remain as it is today," Olin said. "Then we still need another 24,000 square feet. So a police operations center with 24,000 square feet in another location is one of the options."

Cooperation needed

The 10,000 square feet the jail will free up when it moves in May off-site plus an additional 4,000 square feet elsewhere should take care of the county's space problems for the next 10 to 20 years, Weinaug said.

The jail takes up about a third of the center's top floor. Each floor offers about 30,000 square feet.

Anderson said he will be asking for some of the jail space when the new facility opens.

"We don't need the whole thing, but we will ask for some of the space," Anderson said.

Meanwhile, Tonkovich hopes the city and county can reach an expansion solution.

"It would be better to expand because there's a networking issue when you start moving people off-site," she said. "My attorneys are in court several times a day. I have staff going back and forth to the clerk's and judges' offices filing things. We have a lot of contact that requires our presence in this building, and it would be really inconvenient to have to travel even a couple blocks."

Solving the problem will require great cooperation between the county and city, Weinaug said.

"I think it's clear the city and county can't unilaterally take space from one another," the administrator said, noting discussions about the municipal court area have been emotional at times.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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