Florida Keys News
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
County plans $10.6M courthouse makeover

PLANTATION KEY -- The Plantation Key courthouse and adjacent jailhouse are scheduled to be replaced over the next three years.

"The buildings are reaching the end of their useful lives," said Kevin Wilson, an engineering division director for Monroe County.

The decision came after the completion last month of a 25-year Facilities Master Plan commissioned by the county. The report's authors concluded that the courthouse building has an inadequate life-safety system. A semi-open courtyard that runs toward the entrance of the courthouse isn't well designed when it comes to hurricane resistance, Wilson said. There is also inadequate room for security checks at the entrance to the courthouse proper.

In addition, the smaller of the two courtrooms is housed in a trailer that is connected to the main courthouse via a fenced breezeway.

As for the jailhouse, said Wilson, the aging building has become expensive to maintain. The master plan calls for a new 56-bed minimum-security jail.

Timing for the rebuild has not been formally set. But the court and jailhouse replacement is now part of Monroe's five-year construction plan.

The project is budgeted for $10.6 million, said Kevin Madok, the county's senior director of strategic planning. It is scheduled to be one of five projects financed by an approximately $25 million bond that the county hopes to issue next spring.

The bond would also finance a fire-rescue training academy on Crawl Key, a rebuild of the Marathon library, a fire station on Summerland Key and the renovation of one of the buildings at the Jackson Square government complex in Key West.

Madok said the new courthouse is slated to be the second of those five projects, behind only the fire-rescue academy. Planning and bidding of the project is expected to take place over the next year, with the approximately 18 months of construction taking place in 2015 and 2016.

Though logistics aren't worked out yet, the courthouse and jail would remain open throughout, Wilson said.

"We haven't started any real planning for the site, and we haven't thought about any contracts," he said.

But the Facilities Master Plan does include a concept for the redeveloped courthouse site. Under the proposal, the county's Public Works facility, which sits immediately south of the courthouse, would be leveled and its facilities moved north to the Key Largo solid waste station at mile marker 100.3, oceanside. Then, the new judicial complex and jail would be built on the vacant space.

Once those buildings are constructed, the existing jail and courthouse would be demolished. A parking lot would go where the courthouse is now and a park for the adjacent Florida Keys Children's Shelter would be created to replace the jail.

The plan also calls for relocating Drug Court from a nearby Monroe County office building into the courthouse.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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