Plans revealed for courtroom remodel
LE MARS — The Plymouth County Board of Supervisors reviewed plans for remodeling of courtrooms at their July 21 meeting.
Dale McKinney of Stone Group Architects presented the layout plans for the project. He started off by apologizing for the delay in getting back to the board. It was in October 2019 that the Supervisors formed a Courtroom Renovation Committee and March 2020 when a contract was approved with Stone Group Architects dealing scope of work and budget planning.
“Some of it was totally outside of our control and some of it, our engineers didn’t want to travel and come down here and so we couldn’t get them kickstarted, but we did get there,” McKinney said. “If you guys want to move ahead, winter construction probably fits this schedule pretty good.”
Supervisor John Meis addressed some of the timeline for the project.
“We’ll have to focus on the small room first and maybe the winter works,” Meis said. “I don’t know. We’ll have to see how everything comes together.”
Details of the scheduling of the project weren’t completely ironed out. County Attorney Darin Raymond mentioned a backlog of court cases which have been delayed during the coronavirus pandemic which may hinder access to the courtroom areas.
“We restart jury trials in October here,” Raymond said. “There’s a backlog now of seven months, not like Polk or Woodbury where there are 5,000 continuances a month. Our judicial resources are going to be dedicated towards criminal, that’s the edict, if you have a divorce or civil things pending, you’re going to have to sit and wait till you get through the backlog. Maybe after January 1, late December. The small courtroom can start any time.”
In terms of the layout of the updated courtroom, there was discussion about the placement of the judge’s bench, jury box, witness stand and a projection area.
Meis asked whether he thought the judge’s bench should be kept in the center of the room.
The general consensus was to keep the judge’s bench in the center of the room.
“I’m with Dale, I think the way the room, you look at the pillars and the woodwork, I think it’s a better option,” Raymond said. “I think it’s going to save some money to not move all of that.”
In terms of tables, it was discussed to have more table space available and to turn the court reporter’s table in order for them to have a better view of the entire courtroom.
“It’s one of those things where we often need three counsel tables,” Raymond said. “The reporters would probably turn with their back to the window. They want to be able to see the witness with one and look at the counsel with the other. I think that maintains that wall next to the witness or we have to come up with an A/V area. With this being flip-flopped, I don’t know that we would put a screen down in front of the window, so the only thing we’d struggle with is having the big screen somewhere or a big wall to display and that’s almost every trial.”
Different display methods were discussed including a projector screen or having a display monitor which could drop down from the ceiling or pop up from the floor that could be out of sight when not in use.
The next area of debate was where to place the witness stand. The layout plan had the witness stand on the far side of the judge’s bench which was farther away from the jury.
The question was raised of moving the witness stand to the other side, but the overall space available would be limited without moving the judge’s bench. Another suggestion would be to place the witness stand directly across the room from the jury box which was brought up was done in federal court.
“I think with the judges in terms of how close they want to be to a witness,” Raymond said. “I think in federal court they do that for a number of reasons, one of which is, it’s not the judge’s witness, they’re a witness and they’re physically, emotionally, psychologically apart from the court, but yeah any of that would work.”
McKinney said it was a good conversation to have before getting started on the project.
“We’ll make those adjustments when we report through final drawings,” McKinney said. “We could do that as an initial package with all the details and we could sit down with Lonnie (Bohlke, Maintenance Director) and decide what he’s going to do and then put a bid package out for the balance of it.”
Meis responded, “That sounds like a plan.”