Houghton County Courthouse repairs OK’d

HOUGHTON – The Houghton County Board approved nearly $125,000 for courthouse maintenance this week, while also hearing suggestions from a consultant about ways to upgrade courthouse security.

Recommendations for work submitted by U.P. Engineers & Architects include replacing windows in the courthouse, restoring sandstone and parking deck repairs.

“Some of the items on this list are going to be major if we don’t do something quick,” board Chairman Albert Koskela said. “The building’s crumbling. The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost.”

The repairs are part of a five-year timetable for repairs recommended by UPEA.

“I really encourage the county and the board to come up with a means of funding maintenance projects every year, because this is an old building and it needs to be taken care of,” said Karin Cooper, project architect for UPEA.

The last significant maintenance done at the courthouse was repair to the roof nine years ago, Controller Eric Forsberg said.

Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said while he supports the courthouse repairs, he had only been informed of the current proposal a few days before the meeting.

“I respectfully ask that the county board be involved with considerations as these plans go forward, which involve a major expenditure from our reserve,” he said.

The board also heard from Dennis MacDonnell, a trial court security specialist for the state, who presented security recommendations. MacDonnell had visited the court in 2009 to conduct a security audit of the building and look at probate and district court from a security standpoint.

After walking through the courthouse again Tuesday, he said additional inside locks need to be installed in some locations.

MacDonnell recommended going from three entrances to one main entrance that could accommodate security screening, he said.

“We know where the potential threat could come in with that entrance, versus any one of the three entrances here,” he said.

Ideally, he said that would include staffing and a metal detector, which would cost about $3,500. More expensive are X-Ray machines and a magnetometer, which would require an observer, he said.

He also suggested the district court install a barrier or separate tables in district court for the defense and prosecution, which sit facing each other at one table.