OLIVET — For Hutchinson County officials and employees, it’s a long-awaited moving day — actually, three moving days.
This week, the departments will load up what’s remaining in the 1881 courthouse and move to the new facility to the northwest overlooking the old site. The new courthouse, which county voters approved by a 2-1 margin in a April 2018 election, covers 22,000 square feet.
The formal moving process from one building to the other will run Wednesday through Friday, according to Auditor Diane Murtha. During that time, the courthouse offices will be closed and office operations — except for law enforcement — will be suspended because of the transition.
“Our last official business day in the old courthouse will be Tuesday,” she said. “We won’t have any phone, Internet or computers, anything like that (during the moving process). They need that much time to take the old system and move it over to the new courthouse.”
The move to the new site represents more than a change in location — it also marks the end of a part of state history.
The current Hutchinson County courthouse is the oldest such facility still used for that purpose in South Dakota. The structure dates back to before statehood in 1889. The old building contains the original two-story central portion, which houses the courtroom, along with the one-story wings to the east and west that were added later.
The new courthouse project carries a price tag of less than $5 million, Murtha said. Of that amount, $2.7 million had been accumulated in a courthouse construction fund. The remainder will be financed with a loan from Merchants State Bank of Freeman.
Upper Deck from Rapid City serves as the architect, while Puetz Construction of Mitchell acts as the contract manager at risk, Murtha said.
The new Hutchinson County courthouse is modeled in many ways after the new Hanson County courthouse in Alexandria, she added.
Hutchinson County courthouse employees were busy Friday afternoon wrapping up loose ends in their current offices while also planning where everything will go in their new offices.
Plans called for installing the new furniture last weekend, Murtha said.
“We’ve been working (on this move) all year,” she said. “We’re still pulling everything together. We have a punch list of things that need to be completed before the move.”
At the highway superintendent’s office, administrative assistant Jane Gramkow noted the maps, plats and other records remaining in the office. While some items have been placed in storage, others are headed to the new courthouse.
The highway department is making the move in the midst of another major process — working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on disaster assistance.
“We have to keep records dating back to March 13,” Gramkow said, referring to the date when a bomb cyclone inundated the county. Since then, the county has sustained other inclement weather that has created further damage to infrastructure.
“We have to document everything related to our disaster work, from overtime to additional spending to the work we have done,” she said.
State law mandates which records need to be retained, Murtha said. County departments have worked with what, in many cases, represents decades of records, maps and official documents. The discarded records have been shredded.
One last bit of formal county business remained for the 1881 courthouse — the commissioners are scheduled to hold their final regular meeting there Tuesday.
The completion of the new courthouse ran into some delays, mostly because of the consistently wet weather dating back a year, Murtha said.
“We were hoping to have moved by October, but the weather this year really delayed things. We had a guy who was going to do dirt work but had other projects that he had to finish before he could get to us,” she said. “Then, you had the (tornado and flooding) in Sioux Falls, and some of our work was delayed while they took care of the emergency work there. With the delay, we are using cement for the parking lot because it got too cold for asphalt.”
The new courthouse will meet a number of needs, according to county officials. The old courthouse contained structural damages and deficiencies in dealing with handicapped accessibility, security issues, lack of office space and the ability to handle computers, Internet and upgraded technology.
Deputy Sheriff Dan Schulte noted the new courthouse will greatly benefit law enforcement and the court system. The sheriff’s office, which currently has one holding cell, will operate two holding cells — one for males and one for females — in the new facility.
The new office space will remain about the same but provide much more flexibility, he said.
The new Hutchinson County courthouse will provide tremendously greater security, starting with the transport of prisoners, Schulte said.
“Before, we had to park outside, behind the courthouse, and bring prisoners to the sheriff’s office. For court, we have to take the prisoners out of the holding call, down the hall up the stairs, while we’re passing however many people, employees and doors,” he said. “Now, we’ll have a sally port, which is a secured entry allowing us to be inside the building when we transport prisoners. And we can go from the holding cell directly into the courtroom itself.”
The improved security will include a stationary metal detector outside the courtroom for scanning visitors and their possessions placed on a counter, Schulte said.
“Courtroom security will be a big thing. We’ll have cameras all over,” he said. “Besides the security cameras, we have a lockdown mechanism for the entire courthouse that can be locked down if you don’t want people entering or exiting. It’s operated exclusively form the sheriff’s office. We also have an intercom system, and everyone has a personal alarm in their offices so they can signal for assistance.”
Courthouse security has become increasingly important in recent years because of many highly charged incidents that aren’t limited to prisoners, Schulte said.
“You may have a protection order, where two parties have a major problem. If you have a hearing where both parties show up, that can be a very volatile situation with one person afraid of the other person,” he said.
“You have divorces and custody cases. Even money matters can create problems. You may have something in small claims court where one party owes money, or a business goes bad, and people are mad at each other. It can turn volatile. Anything can happen in the courtroom or offices.”
Clerk of Courts Dorene Winckler said today (Monday) will mark the last court motions heard in the old courthouse. The final criminal and civil jury trials were held during the past six weeks. The first motions date in the new courtroom is scheduled for Dec. 2.
In anticipation of the move to the new courthouse, the Clerk of Courts office sent records prior to 1910 to the state archives, where the majority has been scanned to disks, Winckler said. Only a few paper court files will move to new facility. Since 2013, the Unified Judicial System has moved to Odyssey and electronic records, which are mostly filed now through File and Serve.
The courtroom and court services have emerged as a major concern in the old courthouse, Winckler said.
“The new facility will provide improved access and safety for the public, jurors, litigants and all justice partners,” she said. “This courthouse should serve the public for generations to come.”
CONTINUING THE WORK
In the midst of preparing for the courthouse move, work continues.
Clifford “Lonnie” Tjaden was waiting for a phone call in his office, which he said formerly housed the sheriff’s department. Now, Tjaden uses the space for his duties with zoning, weed supervision and drainage.
One sign of the transition — chairs and other items marked with “go” and “stay” signs taped to them. Tjaden expects most things left behind will be declared surplus and sold at auction in the spring, likely in front of the old courthouse.
“We’re leaving the heat on (in the old building) until the end of December. We’ll take what we need right away and get settled into the new courthouse,” he said. “If somebody forgot something, or they have something (left behind) like a cabinet that they don’t need but someone else could use, then they can come back and get it.”
Murtha anticipates an open house for the new courthouse next spring.
Meanwhile, the old courthouse and its land remain county property. She anticipates the 1881 building will be razed unless someone buys it. A new owner may decide to do so anyway and use the land — located along U.S. Highway 18 — for another purpose.
Former Hutchinson County Assessor Donna Zeeb visited Friday afternoon not for any official business — just one last look at a building where she worked for nearly a half-century.
“I just wished I had come sooner and had taken pictures of the way it was and then take pictures of the new courthouse and put them side by side,” she said with a bit of nostalgia. “I was here 46 years (in the old courthouse). I know a lot of history about this place.”
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