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Archive for Wednesday, November 25, 1998

SPACE DEMANDS

November 25, 1998

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Officials should let the dust settle from moves to new municipal court and jail facilities before discussing expansions to the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Now seems an odd time to be discussing the possible expansion of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Taxpayers recently financed a new home on New Hampshire Street for the city's municipal court offices. Within a few months, the Douglas County Jail will move to a new building -- also taxpayer financed -- east of town on Kansas Highway 10. That will free up another 10,000 square feet in the law enforcement center.

But even with the new space that is becoming available, various officials based in the center now want taxpayers to start considering adding onto the building or funding another building to which some offices can be relocated.

It's true that space at the law enforcement center is tight. Police and sheriff's officers would like more room. The district attorney needs a new staff office. Douglas County District Court is hard pressed to provide staff and spaces to meet the demands of an increasing caseload. But it makes more sense to see how well these needs can be accommodated in the space that will be freed up by moving the jail before rushing to discuss expansion plans.

A recent dispute concerning how much space the city deserves and receives in the judicial center apparently has been settled by the county's agreement to essentially pay rent on space that previously was used by the city's municipal court. But observers might wonder whether such territorial issues might be at the heart of expansion discussions.

Rather than make tough decisions about how to allocate limited space, it would be far easier for the county to expand the center and give everyone the space they want. That would reduce squabbles between the city and county as well as among various court, county and law enforcement offices.

But it isn't good news for taxpayers. The K-10 location was chosen for the new Douglas County Jail partly because it seemed impractical to significantly expand the law enforcement center. Any expansion at the current site would be difficult without encroaching on South Park or the attractive greenspace between the law enforcement center and the county courthouse.

And whether officials decided to try to expand at the current site or build a facility at another location, taxpayers will be asked to pick up the tab. Putting that request to voters so soon after making major expenditures for municipal court and jail facilities just isn't reasonable.

All the departments housed in the law enforcement center want, and probably deserve, more. For the time being, they may have to make do with less. It's only reasonable to take the time to see how well space needs can be met after the jail is moved out of the center before discussing any expansion plans.

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