County officials, area attorneys, courthouse staff, Portage County Jail administrators, members of various law enforcement agencies and several citizens joined in watching a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to officially dedicate the third-floor courtroom as part of recently-completed renovations of the courthouse.
"The good news is the courtroom's done," Common Pleas Judge Joseph Kainrad said with a smile. "The bad news is the building's only half done."
The first phase of the renovation project, which cost about $2.2 million, focused on renovating space formerly used by the Portage County Jail before its 1995 move to the newly constructed Portage County Justice Center on Infirmary Road.
Phase two is set to commence at the start of the new year and will include renovating the rest of the building, including two other common pleas courtrooms, two municipal courtrooms, the domestic relations courtroom and several clerks' offices.
Directly below the new common pleas courtroom, where Kainrad now presides, is a satellite Portage County Sheriff's Office on the second floor with four holding cells, three interview rooms, a central control security center, a computer room, a kitchenette, and an office area. The holding cells include two benches, a toilet, a writing desk and an intercom system and can hold up to six people each.
The sheriff's area is connected to the new courtroom by an elevator, which can transport defendants into the courtroom without having contact with witnesses, jurors or family members in the hallway or on the public elevator, Kainrad said.
"What do we have here?" the judge asked. "I've had a number of lawyers and judges from across the state come in here to look. They said we have one of the finest court systems they've been in. We have a system that's very functional, that will last a long time.
"If you make it look like a high school cafeteria, people act like it's a high school cafeteria," Kainrad said. "I think people will respect the dignity of this room."
A new first-floor municipal courtroom, where Judge Barbara Watson presides, was designed in a similar style as its common pleas counterpart, with hand-tooled mahogany woodwork and a deep plum and teal color scheme.
Phase one renovations also included newly-designed quarters for two of the clerk of courts offices _ the municipal court traffic and criminal clerks on the first floor and the common pleas criminal and domestic clerks on the second floor.
Friday's dedication ceremony also included tours of the newly remodeled sections of the building and refreshments in Common Pleas Judge John Enlow's court.
The event, which welcomed several guests including retired Portage County Judge George Martin, 11th District Court of Appeals Judges Judith Christley and William O'Neill, and Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Wyatt McKay, was preceded by a luncheon for many county officials and area attorneys at the Elks Club in Ravenna. An afternoon open house followed the dedication.
"One of the things we've talked about is how far into the future will this investment go," Kainrad said of the renovations to the 37-year-old building. "We don't know how long we've fixed this problem for. Hopefully, for some years to come.
"We wanted to end up with something that looked like a courtroom should
look, something that was secure for the litigants, something that was up
to date with technology for the future, something that took special
consideration of the jurors who serve this county," he said.