A few options have been considered, and Anderson County will now study whether to move the General Sessions Court in Oak Ridge to a county-owned building on Emory Valley Road.
Related to that proposal are plans to move the Oak Ridge Senior Center, which is now at the Emory Valley Road building, to the Oak Ridge Civic Center on Oak Ridge Turnpike.
Also up for a possible move is the Oak Ridge Recreation and Parks Department. That department now occupies part of the Civic Center, where the Senior Center could move, but the department’s administrative offices could move to a vacant building on Badger Road that once housed Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic.
The idea is that moving the administrative wing of Recreation and Parks to the Badger Road building could free up space for seniors at the Civic Center, which in turn would help create space at the county-owned building for the General Sessions Court.
The county wouldn’t have to pay a lease at the Emory Valley Road building, said Anderson County Commissioner Angeleque McNutt, who, along with Commissioner Theresa Scott, received credit for helping to develop the proposal.
“For the good of the county, and financially, this makes sense,” McNutt said.
The Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic building had previously been considered as a possible home for the General Sessions Court, Division II. But there has been an unofficial estimate that work on that building could cost up to $750,000.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and City Manager Mark Watson outlined the three potential moves—of the Senior Center, Recreation and Parks Department, and General Sessions Court, Division II—during a Monday evening Anderson County Commission meeting in Clinton.
Watson said the city could use $50,000 for senior center design and materials and reinstate $30,000 in a remodeling budget for the General Sessions Court.
Having a court presence in Oak Ridge is really important, Watson told commissioners. Besides being important to Oak Ridge officers, the court is also used by Oliver Springs and Rocky Top police departments, among other agencies.
It’s logical to use a county building, the Emory Valley Road building, for a county purpose, the General Sessions Court, Watson said.
Officials described the proposal as good for the city and county.
The city would keep the court in Oak Ridge, and the county will have space available, Anderson County Commissioner Myron Iwanski said. The $30,000 per year would probably pay for most of the renovations over a period of years, just as city money has helped with the renovations at the current location, he said. Also, among other things, having the General Sessions Court next to existing county offices in the Emory Valley Road building could allow the county to consolidate services, such as cleaning services, Iwanski said.
The city would forego its option to buy the county-owned building for $1 at the end of its Senior Center lease (Watson said the city is already 1.5 years into a three-year lease extension for the Senior Center). Also, the city is giving $30,000 to offset courthouse remodeling costs, Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager said.
“That’s pretty good, considering what the limitations are,” he said.
Watson said he will take the proposal to the Oak Ridge City Council for budget approval.
Iwanski proposed a request for proposals and engineering analysis that would evaluate the concept of moving the General Sessions Court to the county-owned building, which is also sometimes referred to as the former Daniel Arthur building. The motion for the evaluation by Iwanski was approved by commissioners on a voice vote with no opposition.
Other locations would be considered before final approval, Iwanski said. The evaluation would study engineering and cost estimates.
It’s not clear yet if moving the courthouse to the Emory Valley Road building will be practical and financially feasible, but the study is meant to help answer those questions. The Anderson County law director, purchasing agent, and Operations Committee are all expected to be involved.
The Senior Advisory Board recommended in March that the Senior Center be located at the Civic Center and Alvin K. Bissell Park, and the board planned to ask the Oak Ridge City Council to consider $50,000 for conceptual studies. The Oak Ridge Senior Center has been in the county-owned building since 1999.
Anderson County General Sessions Court, Division II, has been in a privately owned building at Bus Terminal Road and Oak Ridge Turnpike since January 2009.
In December, the Anderson County Commission, which had no other alternatives lined up at the time, agreed to an 18-month lease for the General Sessions Court, keeping the courthouse at its current home until mid-2017. That was expected to give county officials time to consider where to locate the court.
The previous seven-year lease expired at the end of 2015. Officials had been trying to determine since October whether to keep the courthouse where it is now, find a new location in Oak Ridge, or move the Division II court to Clinton, where Division I is located.
County commissioners approved the 18-month lease for the Oak Ridge courthouse at a rate of $5,500 per month.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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