L ocal officials are exploring cost cutting measures they hope will allow them to proceed with the relocation of the town and village courts.
Both the village Board of Trustees and the Town Board have made moving the courts from their location above the village offices on Saunders Street to the Whitehall Municipal Center a top priority. The current courtroom has a number of problems and village trustee Ken Bartholomew recently described the facility as “junk.”
Town and village Justice Julie Eagan said the courtroom lacks adequate storage, has insufficient security, is located on the second story with no handicapped accessibility, and has no fire exit.
But plans to relocate hit a snag, at least temporarily, when officials learned the cost of renovating that space was estimated to be as much as $400,000, far higher than what had initially been budgeted.
So officials are reaching out to the Office of Court Administration to learn about construction requirements and how grant money can be spent.
Last month, the court received a $60,000 grant from the Justice Court Assistance Program to help facilitate the relocation of the courts but it’s how that money can be used that will determine whether they will be able to move.
“We’re just looking for some clarification,” Eagan said.
Mayor Peter Telisky said officials are hopeful they can use the grant money to purchase construction materials.
“We’re going back to the Office of Court Administration to learn if we can use the grant money for materials because we plan on doing a majority of the work in-house,” Telisky said.
“Everyone is aware there is no money. There’s no way we can spend $400,000 on a court room. We can’t spend $100,000. We’re looking to spend the $60,000 and I can’t believe that we can’t get a pretty long way on that money but we need to find out if there are any strings attached.”
“We really feel we can get a long way for $60,000,” Supervisor George Armstrong said.
He said that by using village crews, officials believe they can realize significant savings by not having to pay prevailing wage, which makes up a considerable portion of the $400,000 estimate.
That figure, which is based on architectural drawings, includes a number of elements officials believe can be modified or eliminated altogether. For instance, the initial plans include a pair of holding rooms that would be used by both the police and the courts, but officials may construct only a single room.
“We have to sift out what is necessary from what isn’t. We’re going to take out the frills,” Armstrong said.
The court will need an elevated platform for the justice, designated space for the court clerk and defendant, meeting rooms, justice chambers and enhance security measures the current court does not have. It also needs be a handicapped accessible facility, have adequate storage space and its own point of egress, all of which officials believe are already in place.
If any of those elements can be modified and the grant money used for materials, the town and village believes it can move the courts within their budgets. Any costs exceeding $60,000 would be shared by the town and village evenly.
“The town and the village have to work together to make this happen,” Telisky said.
Armstrong said he expects officials to be in a position to determine whether the move is feasible within in the next month.
If they can move ahead with the plan, renovations could begin this spring.