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Benton County courts building still changing

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County's proposed new courts building remains a work in progress, officials were told Tuesday.

County Judge Barry Moehring briefed the justices of the peace on the project at the Quorum Court's Committee of the Whole.

What’s next

Benton County’s justices of the peace endorsed spending $2.3 million for voting equipment at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. The Quorum Court will consider the purchase at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 in the Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building, 215 E. Central Ave in Bentonville

Source: Benton County

"This is an update," Moehring said. "This is not final. It's a work in progress."

Moehring said the design concepts he presented Tuesday have been modified and will continue to develop.

"What you see tonight is going to change substantially," he said.

Discussion on a courts building has gone on for years. 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 now used by Circuit Judge Brad Karren. Preservationists want to keep the building, which opened in 1935, intact for some use. The concepts being considered keep the old building in place, but also identify the site as potential expansion space, Moehring said.

Moehring told the committee the most recent concepts show a building of four or five stories, with about 83,000 square feet of space, on a site on Northeast Second Street. There will be space for eight courtrooms and judges' chambers, with additional space for the Circuit Clerk, County Clerk and other related offices. The cost is estimated at $20 million to $25 million.

Moehring said he expects detailed architectural plans and cost estimates to be available sometime in January, instead of the end of 2017 as had been discussed.

"We're going to need another 30 days, into January, to get you a final plan," Moehring said. "We'd rather get it right than get it fast."

One new aspect of the building project revealed Tuesday is the location of the main entrance on the north side of the building, facing the 21C Hotel. Moehring said with the planned construction of a parking deck on B Street to the northeast and a proposed public plaza to the northwest off A Street, having the main entrance on the north side makes the most design sense.

Moehring also told the committee the project may include demolishing the old county jail, just east of the courthouse, to provide a staging area for construction. At the end of construction, he said, the space could be used as a parking area. The area has also been designated for possible expansion for the courts.

The Finance Committee heard a report last week on funding options for the new building from Shep Russell, with Friday, Eldredge & Clark, bond counsel on the project. Moehring said he would prefer the county pay for the project from existing revenue. Russell told the justices of the peace the source of money to pay off the bonds determines what type of bonds the county issues.

One type of bonds are authorized under Amendment 78, Russell said. Those bonds must be repaid from "general revenue of the county," don't require a public vote and must be repaid within five years. Bonds paid from a tax requires a public vote but avoid the five-year restriction. Russell said this is the most common type of bond financing used by Arkansas counties.

The third option is revenue bonds paid by money "not derived from taxes," Russell said. Those bonds are most commonly repaid from fees, fines, court costs and restitution ordered in district courts and circuit courts. Brenda Guenther, comptroller, said the county takes in about $1.5 million annually for the general fund from those sources.

NW News on 10/11/2017

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