Benton County officials review courts building in Bentonville

Posted: November 8, 2017 at 1:01 a.m.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's justices of the peace will consider spending about $1.4 million next year on a new courts building.

County Judge Barry Moehring suggested the Quorum Court "break it down into smaller bites" while discussing how to pay for the $25 million project.

"On Monday, appropriate the money for the architectural and design fees needed for next year," Moehring said, adding the proposed timeline on the project then gives the county about seven months before any construction work.

"That gives the Quorum Court time to begin discussing financing options," Moehring said.

The Committee of the Whole was briefed on the project Tuesday by Moehring and the team of architects, engineers and consultants.

The county has been working on a courts building for several years. The county is working on a building on Second Street in downtown Bentonville with an estimated cost in the range of $20 million to $25 million. The justices of the peace have discussed funding options from using fines, fees and other revenue to a one-year dedicated sales tax to cover the cost.

Early studies identified possible sites downtown and another on county land near the Benton County Jail on Southwest 14th Street. The Quorum Court voted earlier this year to keep the courts downtown.

Some discussion of the downtown location has included the fate of the old U.S. Post Office used by Circuit Judge Brad Karren. Preservationists want to keep the building, which opened in 1935, intact for some use. The concept being considered keeps the old building in place and identifies the site of the old county jail and juvenile detention center, east of the historic courthouse, as potential expansion space.

The current concept shows a building of four stories, with about 86,000 square feet of space, on a site on Northeast Second Street. There will be space for eight courtrooms, jury deliberation rooms and judges' chambers, with additional space for the Circuit Clerk, County Clerk and other related offices. The fourth floor, which would initially be shell space, would house two of the eight courtrooms and related spaces. The county now has six circuit court judges with five of them being housed in the downtown area and the sixth housed at the Juvenile Justice Center on Melissa Drive.

Several justices of the peace questioned the choice to build the fourth floor as shell space, with a tentative footprint smaller than the second and third floors.

"I see a tremendous waste of space, especially on the fourth floor" Joel Jones, justice of the peace for District 7, said during the meeting.

Joel Edwards, justice of the peace for District 15, echoed Jones' comments and asked for the next presentation to include cost estimates for building out the fourth floor as part of the initial project.

NW News on 11/08/2017