Repairs, security have some county leaders looking past aging courthouses

By Kathy Sweeney -

JACKSON, MO (KFVS) - With a loud boom, workers catch the Jackson courthouse elevator, holding it up with steel pipes so they can work on the shaft below.

Cape Girardeau County Commissioner Paul Koeper says the need for this work became clear during the elevator's last inspection.

"The people making the inspection said you need to replace the shaft", Koeper said.

"It's getting worn.  It's not dangerous. It's not the point where the thing is going to fall in, but we need to replace it."

"Well, this elevator is basically 38 years old", said Cape County Public Works Director Don McQuay.

Under state and federal requirements, McQuay says this aging elevator must now have a double-bottom shaft to keep it from leaking.

That means this car must be lifted up, so crews can work two stories underground.

"Whatever the rise of your elevator, it goes that far down under the ground", McQuay said. "so, basically your shaft is 23 feet in the ground, which is what the rise is."

Commissioner Koeper tells me they chose this week to shut down the elevator because of a light court load. But this work will still disrupt the biggest criminal case in the county, the triple murder case against Ryan Patterson.

"One of the attorneys is unfortunately unable to access the building without using an elevator. And since he can't come, we have to put the case off for a month", Judge Bill Syler explains.

"Death penalty cases always move at a glacial speed. No stone is unturned. And whenever you have to put things off, that just means it takes all that much longer."

Commissioner Koeper says the money needed to make this estimated 32-thousand dollar fix is in the current budget. Now, they just need the time, and patience, to get it done.

"I just ask that everybody work with us and let us get the job done and get it done right". Koeper says.

But, Judge Syler tells me the downed elevator is more than an inconvenience.

"Well, I think it points to the need, once again, that this is an outdated facility. It's a 100 year old building. And we really need something which is contemporary and which would be in compliance in terms of security as well as terms of access", Judge Syler said.

And that's what Commissioner Koeper, a former civil engineer, has already been planning.

Koeper says it makes sense to have a single justice center in Jackson, near the Sheriff's office and jail. Other options once considered, he says, are now off the table.

"We still don't know what's going to happen over in Cape with the old federal courthouse. So, I've kind of put that on the back burner, looking at the possibility of another justice building," Koeper.

And Koeper's already thought about how to pay for it, with the money currently being spent to pay for the jail.

"With the idea that maybe we can get along until that point. But 8 years, when that's paid off, we can say we're ready to go. Here we go again", Koeper said.

According to Koeper, a new justice center will solve all of the current problems being faced at the county's two aging courthouses from security of staff and visitors, to the safe transportation of prisoners, to accessibility for people of all abilities.

"And we've got time. If you look at seven, eight years that's not a real long time to do some serious planning", Koeper said.

In the meantime, the commission has given Koeper approval to move forward with his plan to bring security to the Jackson courthouse.

He says he'll seek bids on new doors next month, along with a Homeland Security grant to pay for added security cameras.

Copyright 2010 KFVS. All rights reserved.