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Archive for Tuesday, November 19, 2002

New center nears finish

November 19, 2002

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Now that a $4 million expansion and renovation of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center nearly is complete, Douglas County commissioners are turning their attention to another conflict of too many resources competing for too little space.

Make that spaces.

âÂÂParking is a problem,â said Jere McElhaney, commission chairman, after a tour of interior changes at the center, 111 E. 11th St. âÂÂThe buildingâÂÂs done, and that was the first step to get finished. Now we have to address the parking problem.âÂÂ

How to do that remains unclear.

Just across Rhode Island Street from the building are three unoccupied county-owned residential lots. Commissioners have suggested using the land for a parking lot big enough to accommodate the regular rush of jurors and others who come to the building to attend a court hearing, cover a child-support bill or file a police report.

There also are the employees, who compete to park in a city lot between the building and South Park.

Commissioner Charles Jones, who has overseen the centerâÂÂs renovation on behalf of the county, isnâÂÂt ready to see the county rush to judgment. East Lawrence residents want their lots to remain available for housing, he said, and are certain to continue the fight against any plan to accommodate only automobiles.

Now that construction is wrapping up and contractors and their trailers have moved on, he said, employees may find plenty of room to park - especially after jail operations have moved to southeast Lawrence and many police employees, including Chief Ron Olin, are working out of a substation on West 15th Street.

âÂÂWeâÂÂre probably talking about a couple hundred thousand dollars, maybe more, for a parking lot that IâÂÂm not sure we need,â Jones said.

If complaints about parking persist, he said, the county should consider asking its employees to find alternate spaces - likely in the nearby Trinity Lutheran Church lot - to make way for jurors and others coming to the building for business.

âÂÂIf you go to commercial facilities on Massachusetts Street, shop owners expect their employees to park away from the buildings so their customers can park closer,â Jones said. âÂÂI think it may be time for us to ask our employees to park farther away so that we can allow jurors and the public closer access to the building.âÂÂ

Douglas County District Court Judge Mike Malone personally thanked commissioners Monday for their commitment to upgrade and expand the law enforcement building, where the courts are located.

He said he also was hopeful commissioners would do something to add spaces.

âÂÂThe jurors obviously have been sandwiched in here,â he said, a few hours after two juries were seated for trials. âÂÂIt would be nice if we could be more parking-friendly.âÂÂ

For now, commissioners are content to wait for a while to see how the centerâÂÂs upgrade will affect parking needs. There still are a few ceiling tiles to replace and tiles to install before the buildingâÂÂs $4 million face-lift is complete.

But with a building expanded and renovated to accommodate another 15 years of community growth, they know that an aging parking lot soon could need an update of its own.

âÂÂWe have to be accommodating to our citizens,â McElhaney said. âÂÂOur taxpayers, our citizens are the ones who footed the bill for this facility, and now we need to make it easy, open and accessible for them.âÂÂ

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