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Report calls for $184M Milwaukee County Courthouse, related demolition

By: Alex Zank//February 24, 2016//

Report calls for $184M Milwaukee County Courthouse, related demolition

By: Alex Zank//February 24, 2016//

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A consultants’ report is recommending that Milwaukee County build a new courthouse as part of a project estimated to cost $184 million. The new structure would house criminal courts, while the existing courthouse (pictured above) would continue to have other types of courts.
A consultants’ report is recommending that Milwaukee County build a new courthouse as part of a project estimated to cost $184 million. The new structure would house criminal courts, while the existing courthouse (pictured above) would continue to have other types of courts. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

A report to Milwaukee County officials recommends both the construction of a new Criminal Courthouse and the demolition of an existing county structure, all for about $184 million.

If officials followed the report’s suggestion, the county’s Safety Building would be demolished and a new courthouse for criminal cases put up in its place. The new structure’s 360,00 square feet of space would initially house 26 courtrooms — a number that could be increased to 30 in future.

This recommendation, among others, was part of a report put together from a trio of consulting firms contracted to recommend the best use for the historic Milwaukee County Courthouse and other existing buildings. The Department of Administrative Services in May issued a request for proposals from companies that were interested in compiling the report.

The winning team, composed of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson Architects, Justice Planning Associates and IBC Engineering, identified several flaws at both the existing courthouse and safety buildings.

Above all, the consultants decided the courthouse should have fewer courtrooms and should have an interior arrangement that prevents prisoners from being moved about using public hallways. When the building opened, it had 20 courtrooms; it now has 47.

“Many of these rooms are inadequate in size to achieve proper image, accessibility and security,” the report states. Reducing the number of courts, and particularly removing the criminal courts, “would significantly improve the utility and safety of the Historic Courthouse.”

The consultants also found the county was improperly using the Safety Building as both an office and criminal court. They suggested it would be best to have be used solely as a criminal courthouse.

The consultants found that renovating the Safety Building to exclusively house office functions would most likely cost between $125 million and $150 million. That would make the project nearly as expensive as building a new criminal courthouse.

The current courthouse is riddled with various defects stemming from the presence of asbestos, structural flaws, pests, code violations and  inadequate mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.

For $184 million, the consultants wrote, county officials would get not only a new courthouse but also the removal of asbestos from existing structures, the demolition of the Safety Building and, possibly, the reconstruction of existing bridge connectors. The money, moreover, would help cover various fees and costs typically associated with a project of this type.

The consultants also looked at the county’s Juvenile Justice Center and, in the end, recommended that it continue servicing both the local juvenile court and juvenile detention center. The report further stated that any plan to move the juvenile court closer to Milwaukee’s downtown courts would most likely have more drawbacks than benefits.

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