Help on the way for cramped Juvenile Court

Gary B. Gray • Dec 11, 2012 at 8:26 PM

Bids have been let for the renovation of the former Seniors’ Center for use as Johnson City’s Juvenile Court, and Judge Sharon M. Green says she’s anticipating relief that the additional space will provide, not only for operations but also for emotions which sometimes can run high in cramped quarters.

“Our court today has a width of only 13 feet,” Green said Tuesday. “There are high tension levels on occasion and the parties are sitting just feet apart. This is going to be a tremendous improvement. The new courtroom will be about 25- to 35- feet wide.

Bids for the 10,000-square-foot renovation for the city’s new juvenile court at 607 E. Myrtle Ave. are due in to the Purchasing Department by Jan. 8. The court’s current location is 102 W. Myrtle Ave.

The city’s Juvenile Court is about 6,000 square feet in size, but that will nearly double after renovations. Meanwhile, seniors quadrupled their capacity when Senior Services moved into the new Memorial Park Community Center on Dec. 8.

In March, the total cost estimate for renovations was about $1.4 million, according to results of a feasibility study presented to the City Commission by Thomas Weems Architects. But commissioners later asked Weems to bring down cost, and bids are expected to reflect that.

Bid documents show the big-ticket items include replacement of the roof and new heating and cooling systems. The new courtroom will be carved out of the old gymnasium, increasing elbow room dramatically.

“The biggest part of the improvements are going to be roofing, and heating and air, so it’s not like they’re going to pour a million dollars into the courtroom,” she said. “We’ll still just have one main courtroom, but it will be much larger. Another part of the gymnasium space will be used for clerks and filing.”

The new court also will include a conference room used for “child and family team meetings.” The drive-thru portion of the old center will be demolished to make way for a large lobby, or waiting area, that will double the number of chairs from 30 to 60, Green said. Parking also will be much improved.

“The old conference room is very cramped,” she said. “We have court five days a week. And in a year, about 1,700 children will come through and 2,775 cases will be disposed of. It is a very appropriate location for the court. It is in close proximity to local police zones, and it would allow for the expansion of the courtroom facilities, including attorney conference rooms, and administrative and other offices.”

The total cost, as well as time lines and other information, should be available next month.

Just exactly what will happen to the existing Juvenile Court building and parking lot remains unknown, though there has been talk about converting it for an alternate municipal use.

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