(C. Proxmire, Feb. 28, 2013)
Imagine showing up for court to be a witness in a case before the magistrate. The stress of court is challenging enough, but imagine also that you are in a wheelchair. Getting in is near impossible. You barely fit through the lobby and there’s no way you can make it up the stairs to the magistrate’s hearing room. The court staff scrambles to pause other cases so the magistrate can come to the lower level courtroom. You and dozens of other court visitors wait in a packed lobby where most people are forced to stand.
When it is finally your turn to testify, you try to approach the witness stand, but the gate is not wide enough for your chair. Instead you must nearly shout to be heard. Finally, when the hard part is over, you need to use the restroom. But your chair does not fit through the restroom door. Staff from the court leave their other duties to help, and you are manually carried into the cramped stall and lifted onto the throne. These things happen at the courthouse in Ferndale, and Judge Joseph Longo hopes they will soon be past them. In November Longo gave a presentation to City Council about the things he’d like to see in a remodel of the 43rd District Court building.
The lack of ADA compliant facilities is not the only problem with the 43rd District Courthouse, although it is the most heart-wrenching. Other issues Longo listed include:
~Building entrance metal detector only three steps from the courtroom
~No private meeting room for attorney to meet with clients as required by pending legislation
~Supreme Court standard is 1815 square feet for clerk’s office, which is nearly double the 933 square feet they currently have
~The current configuration makes work flow inefficient
The building was constructed in the 1930s and served as a mattress store and warehouse until the 1970s when it was converted into the courthouse. In November City Council approved moving ahead with a remodel project for both the courthouse and the police station. On Feb. 25 City Council approved hiring the architects for the job. The remodeling project will be paid for with funds that have been set aside from each ticket and placed into a building fund for the past 12 years. By the end of the current fiscal year there should be $2 million in the fund to use for this project.
Judge Longo and his staff have already come up with some creative ways that remodeling can make their work space more efficient that will not require a complete rebuild.
“We’re not looking for pomp and circumstance, but we are looking for something the citizens can be proud of and that the citizens who come into the court can be accommodated,” Longo said.
His request is that an addition be constructed on the east side of the building, which would give two stories of new space. This would provide storage space and a room for attorneys to meet with clients. It would make a more secure entrance way, and there would be seating along the hallway to maximize the space.
The exterior of the building would also be updated. On Oct. 6, 2011 a vehicle lost control and hit the front of the courthouse, destroying several of the decorative wooden slats. With the damaged slats removed, it looked somewhat better to take down the rest. However the metal beams that held the wood in place are also essential to the structure, so for now they remain. Longo hopes that the architect can come up with a solution for a respectable facade.
To read about the police station remodeling project, go to http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2013/02/28/chief-asks-for-safety-structure-in-police-station-remodeling/. For more information about the contracts see the City Council agenda packet for Feb. 25, 2013 at http://www.ferndale-mi.com/Services/Cable/CityCouncilVideo.htm.