Move court to City Hall? Maybe

If negotiations don’t work out for a co-located court in Poulsbo, perhaps islanders could turn to the Bainbridge City Hall as a future destination for the island’s Municipal Court.

While moving the court to City Hall has obvious challenges, namely a financial burden to a cash-strapped city, the option exists. And according to several city officials, it might be an option that merits further exploration.

“It certainly is an option. Ideally we would have a court located in the same building or near the police station and located in Winslow,” said Mayor Bob Scales. “City Hall would serve as an ideal location to meet those two criteria. But I imagine we would encounter a number of challenges in doing so.”

City management is in the midst of lease negotiations with Mayor Becky Erickson of Poulsbo to co-locate the Bainbridge court to the new Poulsbo City Hall. The current Rolling Bay facility has long been regarded as an inadequate space for court proceedings, but a move off-island was met with considerable opposition in the community.

Hundreds of islanders signed a petition to keep the court on Bainbridge, and one group organized a detailed plan to improve the Rolling Bay facility independently of a financial contribution from the city.

Amidst all the discussion about a Poulsbo or Rolling Bay location, community members continue to ask: Why can’t Bainbridge have its own court in the now spacious City Hall building? Although the idea presents obvious challenges, including costly construction, it appears no one has given the option serious consideration.

Beginning in March of 2010, Dave McCoy, the city’s performance manager for the administration, was charged with the task of evaluating the associated costs and issues with moving the court to Poulsbo. As part of that assignment, in conjunction with Deputy Director Lance Newkirk, he looked at other island locations including City Hall.

Though McCoy’s assessment was preliminary and general since the move to Poulsbo was the primary focus at the time he said this week, “The short answer is yes, I think there is a feasible solution for court in City Hall.”

Each of the buildings McCoy examined, including the Rolling Bay facility, would require construction in order to provide the necessary safety features for a court room. McCoy said city hall would need modifications that would likely be more expensive than the costs to the Rolling Bay facility, but it could still be a feasible option.

McCoy envisioned a building reconfiguration where court would be held on the side of the building where the engineering offices are currently housed. His idea was a court area placed behind double doors located where the drinking fountain is currently located to the left of the City Hall chambers. He thought that could work better than inside the council chambers, which would disrupt the various other purposes the chambers are used for during the day.

McCoy said the current city hall layout could be improved to better utilize the space.

“I thought it was really a neat idea, but it would take far more money than Rolling Bay solutions,” said McCoy. “Clearly those were just my ideas, and it wasn’t something I could dedicate substantial time to. They were preliminary ideas that need more assessment and could pose plenty of other problems.”

Scales said the first step is to await completion of the current negotiations with Poulsbo.

“Clearly we need to look at the lease proposal and either approve or reject it, but if it for some reason [Poulsbo] doesn’t work out then City Hall is probably an option I would want to explore. Along with improvements to the current facility,” said Scales. “But I don’t know how feasible it is or how much it will cost.”

Interim City Manager Brenda Bauer said she was unaware of any assessment about moving the court to City Hall, and said the city doesn’t have the money for remodeling even though there is vacant space.

City staff has dropped to 1998 staffing levels with a reduction of nearly one-third of city employees since 2007. Now with only 111 FTE employees, there are many vacant work stations.

But the open layout of the building poses a serious challenge.

“There isn’t a way of repurposing an open space cubicle because they are all in one big open space,” Bauer said. “Even if we physically moved people to one end of the room it would be difficult to segregate the building for a distinct purpose, without construction, from the rest of City Hall.”

A group of people working on the energy grant are using one corner of the building, but their access to the building is a challenge because they can’t use the space on weekends and there isn’t a secure work counter for public records. Ultimately the current configuration doesn’t provide a lot of options, according to Bauer.

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