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Franklin Co. Commissioners discuss judicial center plans

August 07, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
  • David Keller
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CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Franklin County (Pa.) Commissioners are making early decisions about a new judicial center, which has been estimated to cost up to $58.4 million. Last week they selected Noelker & Hull Associates of Chambersburg as the project's architectural firm.

The commissioners recently sat down with Herald-Mail reporter Jennifer Fitch to answer questions about the project.

1) Why is a new courthouse needed?



David Keller: "Two separate studies have been done, one by the National Center for State Courts and one by Carter Goble Lee, our consultants. Both of them have concluded the current court facilities are undersized and are in need of security-related improvements. Those are the two big driving issues at this point.

Both of those studies concluded based on the size of our operation and projected growth of court operations over the next 20 years, we should have two and half times the amount of square feet that is currently dedicated to court-related operations."

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Robert Ziobrowski: "Courts are very people oriented. ... Courts are still a people business, and the number of people associated with the courts has grown and all studies say they'll continue to grow.

When you come right down to it, a defendant is going to have to face a jury, and you're going to need people and space. Technology can help the court system, but it can't fundamentally alter it. It is still a people business.

Anecdotally, when you go into court on jury day or call of the list day, you can see that things are too crowded. This is not the way the court should be functioning. We don't have enough room."

Keller: "Population growth and increase in caseload have driven the growth of the operation of the courts. The projected continued increase in caseload and population growth will continue to increase the operations of the court.

It's the increase in the caseload and the increase in the size of the operation that ... has caused us to sort of retrofit the existing facilities for greater capacity. That process has resulted in some inefficiencies as far as where offices are located, and it's also created some safety and security issues that'll only get worse as the caseload increases.

This is not just about number of courtrooms. For the system of justice to function effectively, you need courtrooms, you need office space for staff and judges, you need hearing rooms for divorce masters and juvenile masters, you need conference areas for meetings between judges and parties prior to trial, and you need space for defendants, and (for) clients to meet with their attorneys in a confidential manner.

You need to provide for the zones of separation. You need to move people around in the building, and in and out of the building. You need keep inmates separate from the public. You need to keep them separate from witnesses, jurors and victims; if you don't, it significantly compromises the quality of justice being delivered. You need to provide safe movement around the building for staff and judges as well. There needs to be well-defined areas of separation. That separation is provided to some extent at this point, but it's a very personnel intensive process. We continue to solve the problem with personnel, but in the grand scheme of things, it's more efficient and fiscally responsible to solve the problem with better facilities than it is with personnel."

Ziobrowski: "Let me give you an example of that. I was watching yesterday when they brought some prisoners in for some sort of court session. The sheriff's deputies formed four corners around the vehicle they brought up to the side door. They were very aware of what exactly what was going on and monitoring. They had four of them at the corners and another one bringing them in. They had a total of five people and maybe more to bring in prisoners.

With a sally port (secured entrance), you don't need five people. In the long run, we're going to spend a lot more money on people than bricks and mortar if we continue the way we're going now. As Commissioner Keller said, we're looking at a very labor intensive business."

Keller: "As a result of the growth over time, the court functions have been fragmented into no less than five locations. You can accomplish a lot as far as efficiency using e-mail and the telephone, but the court-related operations will be much more efficient if they're co-located in one campus.

When I say court-related operations, I'm talking the courtrooms and the administrative support for all that. It also includes the district attorney; public defender; domestic relations, which is currently down on Second Street; adult probation, which is out on Walker Road; and the Day Reporting Center, which is on Loudon Street. I'm not saying all of these are going to come under one roof, but to the extent that we can get more of them under one roof or at least on the same campus, the taxpayer will see a more efficient operation."

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