Florida Keys News
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Marathon courthouse looking good
Long-overdue renovations, stymied by economy, should be done in February

It's been a long time coming.

Construction crews are busy in Marathon adding $1 million in improvements to the courthouse that many said were long overdue. The courtrooms were old trailers -- meant to be temporary -- and there was asbestos and mold in the main building.

"It's been very difficult to process cases and have the general public come and witness proceedings because of size constraints," said attorney Hal Schuhmacher, who splits his time between Marathon and Key West. "I think everyone is very much looking forward to the construction being complete. And the public and family members will have a chance to witness cases, which is what is supposed to happen with public court proceedings."

The problem with the 1970s-era old courthouse at Mile Marker 50 has been one of timing, as economic constraints have put priorities elsewhere.

Meanwhile, lawyers, court reporters, county Judge Ruth Becker and other legal workers made due with the space that included a pair of trailers installed in 1994, said 16th Judicial Circuit Trial Court Administrator Holly Elomina.

"The work has long been slated, but it kept getting pushed back because of other projects in the county," she said.

There was talk over whether to bulldoze the courthouse and start anew, but again, funds were limited.

"We need a new facility, but because of costs we decided to renovate," Elomina said.

The county hired Pedro Falcon Electrical and General Contractors of Big Pine Key to complete the $1 million renovation, said Monroe County Project Management Director Jerry Barnett. The same builders constructed the Big Pine Key firehouse and are building the Conch Key firehouse.

Marathon courthouse renovations actually started on Aug. 1, 2011, but the discovery of asbestos and mold on Dec. 27 that year led to a six-month delay for removal of the toxins, Barnett said. With that part of the project completed, crews hope to have the remainder of the work done by February.

Among the improvements are updated security camera systems and a larger security area designed to accommodate wheelchairs. In fact, much of the work is intended to bring the structure into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, Barnett said.

The trailer has also been replaced entirely and now has bathrooms adjacent the jury room, and Becker's office and bathroom were upgraded.

Mostly, however, the renovations make the building look more, well, like a courthouse, Elomina said.

"Judge Becker just sent us some pictures and it looks like a courtroom!" she said. "Even the new trailer is dignified and appropriate for court. The existing trailer was not appropriate."

The work is ongoing. The Freeman Justice Center in Key West is also being renovated, to enlarge its security lobby and add new space for drug court administration.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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