Court renovations wrap up

By Deanna Hohler Bottar Record-Courier staff write Published:

The nearly finished third-floor room _ with padded seating for the public, multiple tables for use by legal counsel, and a high-tech audio-visual system _ is one of the highlights of the first phase of renovation in the 37-year-old building.

Renovations to the interior of the courthouse have been ongoing for more than a year with the busy sounds of power tools filling the hallways _ all in the name of progress.

Phase one of the renovation project, which cost about $2.2 million, focused on the area vacated by the Portage County Jail when it moved to its new home in the newly-built Portage County Justice Center on Infirmary Road in 1995.

The jail formerly filled the southwestern portion of the first, second and third floors of the building. The Portage County Sheriff's Office formerly occupied more space on the second floor of the courthouse and soon will reopen a satellite sheriff's office on the third floor of the downtown Ravenna landmark, Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley said.

Space formerly occupied by the jail on the first floor has been transformed into a new municipal courtroom, just down the hall from Judge Barbara Watson's current municipal courtroom.

Up two flights of stairs is the new common pleas courtroom, which occupies space formerly filled with the maximum security portion of the jail, according to Common Pleas Judge John Enlow.

The room is decorated in dark shades of teal and plum, with hand-tooled mahogany panel accents on the walls. Light from three large windows just behind the jury box fill the room, and hanging glass light fixtures extend from the ceiling with complementing sconces on the walls.

The courtroom, which is interconnected with a jury room, also has a small room equipped with video monitors for juveniles to be separated from courtroom activities.

The monitors allow children involved in courtroom proceedings to be separated from the goingson in the courtroom while still being privy to the activities therein, Enlow explained.

The room also has a private elevator, which connects with holding cell space below.

All the new courtroom needs is wiring for telephones and computers, Enlow said. A dedication date also has not been set by the Portage County Commissioners to allow for official use of the courtroom.

The municipal court clerk of courts staff moved into their newly renovated first-floor office in June. The criminal and traffic divisions temporarily were housed on the second floor during the renovation project.

The common pleas clerk's staff was busy in recent days moving its office to a newly renovated space down the hall on the second floor.

Although renovations seemed to have slowed to a near stop while a lot of wiring work is being done, the pause between construction projects will be brief.

Phase two of the project, set to begin after the first of the year, will include a complete renovation of the rest of the building.

"All remaining interiors will be renovated _ municipal and common pleas courtrooms, domestic and probate courts and the probate clerk's area," said David L. Sommers, a Kent architect whose firm jointly redesigned the courthouse with Hasenstab and McCarthy Architects of Akron.

Some of the spaces set to be renovated during the second phase will be shuffled into new areas during the remodeling process, and others will find permanent homes elsewhere in the courthouse when the project is complete, Sommers added.

"The construction will definitely be scheduled in parts and pieces,"

Sommers said. "We will dictate the sequencing, so there's as little

disruption as possible for the courthouse personnel."

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