Hazel Park 43rd District Court undergoes major renovations

City Hall also getting a facelift

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 14, 2016

 The facade at the City Hall municipal building is nearly 50 years old and is crumbling away. The renovations will give the entire building a facelift, in addition to adding a second courtroom and more.

The facade at the City Hall municipal building is nearly 50 years old and is crumbling away. The renovations will give the entire building a facelift, in addition to adding a second courtroom and more.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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HAZEL PARK — Operations for Hazel Park 43rd District Court have been relocated to Longfellow Elementary the rest of the year while the courthouse undergoes major renovations to better accommodate its high volume of cases. The project will also improve the exterior of City Hall, which houses the court and Police Department, and won’t cost taxpayers anything.

The nearly $2.2 million project is being personally overseen by Judge Chuck Goedert and a design firm in Hazel Park, and is funded entirely by an increase in civic infraction fines of about $15. The amount is based on what fines have brought in over the past six years.

Back in the ‘90s, the city was advised by the Michigan State Court Administrators Office that the court facilities were substandard. As recently as 2000, a committee was formed to find a site for a new courthouse due to the dire need, but the effort went nowhere.

In the spring of 2015, Goedert decided to take a new approach.

“The current facility is completely inadequate for the large number of cases we handle,” Goedert said. “It was designed for a small municipal court — not one of the busier district courts in the state. Building a new building would’ve cost the city many millions of dollars, so my idea was to put an addition on an existing building and renovate, and to cover it with a modest increase in civic infraction funds.”

Goedert went to City Council with his proposal and got approval for the ticket increase, and then secured a bond with that to cover the project. He said city officials were very supportive.

“They asked that it also include a new facade on the rest of City Hall, and to renovate the existing courtroom that is also used for their council meetings,” Goedert said. “The existing courtroom is too cramped for them during their meetings, and there’s no handicapped access to the jury box for jury trials. So we expanded the scope of the project to accommodate these additional needs.”

The building’s facelift is not only cosmetic, he said — it’s a safety concern as well. He recalled how he was walking around the north side of the building once when a piece of the facade fell and nearly hit him.

“Parts of the building are literally falling off, and it looks terrible,” Goedert said. “After 48 years, the building is in dire need of the revitalization this project will provide.”

In terms of the courthouse itself, the project will expand the space for the deputy clerks. Currently, they work in very cramped confines — seven employees in a room that’s about 330 square feet, handling a large number of cases.

The main addition is a second courtroom. Previously, both dockets — that of the district judge and the magistrate — were very busy and competing for the same courtroom, creating a bottleneck. By adding a second courtroom, efficiency should increase dramatically.

The court administrator will also now have a proper office. Currently, she works in the hallway leading to the galley with the microwave and fridge, and the probation department, so there are constantly people moving back and forth in front of her desk while she’s trying to work.

The expansion and renovation is expected to be complete around December. Meanwhile, court operations have moved to Longfellow Elementary School in the Hazel Park district. The court opened there July 11 with its first court dockets July 12. The school underwent a buildout to convert it into a functioning courthouse.

Also on July 11, the contractor began its initial work setting up fencing at City Hall. The city is relocating a water main away from where an addition will be built. Once that’s out of the way, the contractor will break ground.

“Designing the elementary school, we put a lot of thought into making sure it does not interfere with the neighborhoods,” Goedert said. “We’re doing all we possibly can to keep that interference to an absolute minimum in terms of signage and traffic flow, the security we’ll have there, the dockets we’ll operate with, and so on.

“It’s still an extreme burden on the Police Department,” he added. “They’re being real troopers about this. … In the existing facilities, there’s a door in my courtroom that goes right down to the jail. Police bring prisoners right from the jail cells to my courtroom and then back down.

Now they’ll have to transport prisoners from the jail to the school and back again, so it will be a bit of work, which is why it’s important the construction schedule be adhered to as much as physically possible.”

He said every precaution is being taken regarding the transfer of prisoners. They will be properly secured in chains and handcuffs at all times heading to and from Longfellow, and while at the school building. Also, whenever possible, the court will try to conduct arraignments by video.  

Hazel Park City Manager Ed Klobucher praised Hazel Park Public Schools for its help.

“I want to thank the school district for working with us and allowing us the use of that building,” Klobucher said. “I want to thank (Superintendent) Amy Kruppe and the members of the Hazel Park Board of Education for their cooperation in this matter.

The city manager also praised Goedert for his vision, and said he looks forward to City Hall no longer resembling the police station from the first “Mad Max” movie.

“It’s about working together,” Klobucher said. “I trust Judge Goedert. He has taken the lead, managed the project and kept his word. And this won’t cost taxpayers any additional money. I have nothing but praise for his performance.”

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