St. Clair ShoresJune 25, 2012
Council OKs continued plans for new court
By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer
St. Clair Shores is one step closer to a new facility for the 40th District Court, with City Council giving the go ahead for architects to proceed with bidding out the cost for the $3.5 million building.
“We are at the point where I can conclusively (say that) it’s not effective to renovate that building,” said City Manager Ben Hughes. “There are some significant needs of that building that have been put on hold.”
The court design, which echoes the mid-century feel of the nearby municipal buildings, is one-story with a mezzanine for storage and a windowed view of 11 Mile Road. Its cost will not exceed $3.5 million, according to city leaders, and will be paid for with $1.8 million currently saved by the court in a building fund — savings accrued from $5 surcharges on certain fines — with the remaining $1.7 million to be paid for through a bond issue.
“I think the time is now,” Hughes said. “I understand how difficult the decision is in this economy. (But) not taking action means that we will be looking at significant Band-Aid repairs.”
The city plans to pay off the municipal bonds with money that continues to be added to the court building fund, approximately $180,000 per year. The city will still continue to collect the $75,000 it charges the court annually for rent.
Hughes said demolition will begin in the fall, as long as the bids come back at the right price point. The court will be temporarily housed for the nine-12 month construction period in the northern school building at the St. Gertrude Campus of Our Lady of Hope on Jefferson Avenue. The city will pay Our Lady of Hope $3,500 a month to use the facility, as well as agreed upon utility costs, and religious education classes will be moved to the St. Germaine campus for the 2012-13 school year.
Councilman Anthony Tiseo asked why the court couldn’t stay in place while a new building is erected on the west end of the property, but John Vitale, principal with Stucky-Vitale Architects, said that would waste land with the parking lot configuration such a move would require.
“The further you pull that building back to the west, you start breaking up that parking lot,” he said. “That causes a lot of restraints. Just from a planning standpoint, it does make sense to put the building closer to the intersection.”
But he agreed, in response to a question from Councilman Chris Vitale, to look at prices for a sloped roof on the structure instead of the proposed flat roof.
Councilman Chris Vitale said he thinks the process was rushed, and they should look more at moving the court to another site in the city and selling the property at 11 Mile Road and Jefferson.
“We looked at one old, overpriced, decrepit site and used that as justification to say, ‘We have to build here; there’s nothing else out there,’” he said. “Other Jefferson Avenue properties are asking over $2 million. We are investing over $3 million … while other commercial districts in the city sit vacant and obsolete.”
He said the property could possibly be developed as lofts or condominiums.
“We’ve got a piece of land right next to the lake, at the end of I-696, and we’re going to build a court building and a parking lot,” he said. “We should table this and get more input on it.”
But Councilman Pete Rubino pointed to the facts that an independent Realtor gave the city an appraisal of the property and a new court has been discussed since 1999 as reasons to move forward.
“I would like to see, if you want the court moved; I would like to see what you’re going to buy and what it’s going to cost,” Rubino said. “(Having) condos built there, in this economic environment, is borderline absurd. Nobody is building condos — you can’t sell existing condos.
“We have to have the property; we have to find property that would suit us. The new property would have to sell at peak prices. I just think it’s completely unrealistic.”
Hughes said a timeline would likely be presented to council in mid-July.
Council voted 5-1, with Vitale opposed and Councilwoman Candice Rusie absent, to proceed with to final documentation and bidding of a new 40th District Court building, with a cost not to exceed $3.5 million.
Mayor Kip Walby said the court has worked hard to save money for the new building.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to have a building fund that’s more than 50 percent” of the total cost of construction, he said. “The reasons we’ve got the millions saved up is because we’ve done all these little things.”
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