MANSFIELD -- Richland County commissioners on Tuesday took the next step toward creating more usable space in the courthouse.
The board unanimously approved a contract to begin the research work needed to tear out the former jail area on level two of the 50 Park Ave. East administration building.
Commissioners approved a contract with AJB Engineering Consultants of Mansfield, which will oversee an effort to examine and verify any structural concerns with the demolition project, as well as examine potential asbestos and lead paint concerns in the space, about 7,500 square feet.
Cells in the old county jail are embedded in the concrete floors on "L2," so concrete floors and walls must be removed and new ones poured, commissioners said in December 2020 when they set aside about $250,000 to help cover costs for the project.
"We've saved money for this project," Commissioner Tony Vero said Tuesday. "My gut tells me we're probably going to need a little more than that."
Alvin J. Berger P.E., principal of AJB Engineering, said that once the structural examinations and abatement issues are determined, he can pinpoint an estimated cost for the project and prepare bidding documents for the county to use in selecting one or more contractors for the work.
No formal timetable for the work was established.
Commissioners in the past have expressed a desire to create additional record-keeping space within the administration building.
In addition, on May 12, the county's two common pleas court general division judges also sent a written request to commissioners asking for an additional courtroom due to the pace of hearings and trials.
Judges Brent Robinson and Phillip Naumoff asked that the space currently used by the Clerk of Courts be transferred to the general division for use as an additional courtroom and two conference rooms.
The judges said the division has three magistrates using a single hearing room, presiding over bench trials, miscellaneous civil hearings, criminal arraignments, bond hearings, stalking hearings and other events.
In addition the judges said the administration building was "not built to accommodate the number of jurors required for the court's large caseload.
"Even before COVID, 50 to 75 jurors were required to assemble in the lobby area of the third floor while waiting for a trial to begin," the judges wrote, citing safety concerns that continue to exist even after pandemic restrictions have eased.