Courthouse condition deteriorating

February 8, 2019

By Tesa Glass

MT. VERNON — Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard has urged members of the County Board to begin making plans for the future of the Jefferson County Courthouse.

“It’s a very old building, but we have a long time left to pay on the Justice Center and the bonds on that,” Bullard said. “I would like to start the conversation and start the process of thinking when the jail bonds are paid off for the Justice Center — that’s going to be 11 to 12 years from now — it will probably be time to replace this building.”

Bullard said he discovered the condition issues of the courthouse after becoming sheriff. As the caretaker for the county building, he was notified of water leaks in the State’s Attorney office.

“The courthouse is in a very poor state of repair,” Bullard said, adding a contractor has been contacted to help determine what can be done. “There has been leaks in places of the courthouse that I never knew existed.”
Bullard said preserving the files in the State’s Attorney office is a high priority not only to preserve current cases, but to make sure there are no files of cold cases and old cases that are corrupted by rain, mold and mildew.

“There are going to be expenses coming up with (fixing the ceiling leak) that we just can’t control.”

Bullard said some files are being stored in the old jail and the vault. The vault flooded a few years ago, and areas of the old jail also flood.
“We need to start talking long-term goals,” Bullard said.
Board member Jere Shaw asked about purchasing the former Register-News building located directly south of the courthouse. Bullard said everything will depend on the strategy developed by the county board in the next 10 to 12 years.

Right now, I think the most practical sense — which depends on if you want to move the courthouse off of the downtown square, is the old Skelton’s property,” Bullard said. “It’s right next to the Justice Center, it’s a big enough lot we can build a courthouse there and I can attach a secure walkway to the Justice Center on the east side. That would be the most secure, the most practical situation if we could acquire land, work on getting the land, getting it prepared and getting the blueprints prepared, everything. Then once the jail bonds are paid off, we can move forward with a plan we’ve looked at, already approved and be ready to just roll before this place caves in.”

Bullard said if the board decides to keep the courthouse downtown, the former Register-News lot would be someplace to build.
“But is it a large enough lot?” Bullard asked. “If we get that lot, then we could turn this into a parking lot for extra parking for the courthouse. There’s several different things that we can look at. But like I said, this is just starting the conversation to let everybody know that something needs to be done in the future, understanding that while we have a huge burden on the jail bonds to pay for, we can’t do anything until that’s taken care of, or at least anything major. We can start a process to acquire land, to develop a plan, and have it ready to roll once we are ready to in the future.”