OLIVET — After more than a year planning and construction, employees at the Hutchinson County Courthouse in Olivet are preparing to move to their new building across town.
Workers at the old courthouse are in the process of packing up files, furniture and other important items to move from the current courthouse, which has been in service with the county since 1881, to the new courthouse that is nearing completion on the west side of town, said Diane Murtha, auditor for Hutchinson County.
“The new furniture will be installed next week,” said Murtha from her office in the current courthouse.
The wet spring and summer slowed down construction on the new courthouse, which was originally slated to be completed in October. Murtha said there is still some work to be done before the new building is completely ready. The parking lot has yet to be paved, there is landscaping to be done to help with erosion and drainage and the phone system needs to be transferred over. Murtha said construction crews will complete as much of that work as they can as soon as they can considering the weather.
It’s been a tough building season for the crew working on the new courthouse, Murtha said. They’ve kept pace as best they could, but the weather has not been cooperative.
“(It slowed down construction) big time. ... We’re trying to get some landscaping done so we have some erosion control,” Murtha said. “If it would just quit raining we can get that done. Otherwise, the weather has had a major impact or it would have been done in October. Mother Nature had other plans.”
Hutchinson County voters approved the construction of the new courthouse in April 2018. County officials had started discussion about a new building in 2013 but initially faced opposition from the community and some officials in surrounding towns. During the years leading up to the vote, the county set aside $2.7 million in a construction fund to alleviate taxpayers being shouldered with the cost. The new structure measures 23,000 square feet and will provide more office space, a larger courtroom, will be accessible to those with disabilities and have a security system.
The county reviewed 25 bids for a projected cost of $4.5 million for the new building. Much of the loading up and moving of crucial materials to the new building will take place Nov. 19, 20, 21 and 22, when the courthouse will be closed and employees will haul the contents of their offices to their new homes. Murtha said phone service for county business will be down at that time as technicians transfer the phone system to the new building.
But everyone is ready to begin the move to the first truly new courthouse structure for the county in over 130 years, Murtha said. Staffers have been putting together boxes of materials throughout the year in anticipation of the move. And some of what is not being moved it being readied for destruction, such as paper files that the county is no longer legally required to keep.
“I have records that go back to the 1990s that we’ve been shredding. We only keep certain things and some we have to keep for so long, and we’ve been getting rid of that,” Murtha said.
Other items that will not make the journey to the new building include some vintage furniture and county property that will be sold to the public at auction after the move is complete.
“Next spring, we’re going to have a surplus auction. We have a chairlift, and there are quite a few things in here, including the 1970s furniture in the courtroom that someone may like,” Murtha said.
The process of moving will also involve cataloging the current courthouse through photographs. Murtha said employees have been encouraged to document their workspaces and the building as they prepare to leave it behind. Despite the excitement of finally moving into a new structure, everyone is keenly aware that it is the end of an era.
“As we’re packing up, I told a deputy that I wanted pictures. Every office is packing up and doing this. This is history,” Murtha said.
And as employees begin the last few weeks of occupying the old courthouse, further modernization efforts are underway. The courthouse recently established its own Facebook page — www.facebook.com/hutchinsoncounty — to help keep the public updated on events, and work on an official dedicated website for the courthouse continues, Murtha said.
The new building will allow county employees to better serve the interests of its patrons, Murtha said, and there will be plenty of challenges to tackle after the move. Like many counties in the region, Hutchinson County suffered heavy infrastructure damage from the rains and flooding this year. Roads and bridges are in need of repair, and it will be one of the top priorities for county officials as they break in the new building.
“We don’t have one road that wasn’t damaged,” Murtha said.
And when the dust finally settles and Hutchinson County staff are comfortably occupying their new offices, it will be time to officially invite the public for an open house in the spring. As a public institution, Murtha said it’s appropriate to have a special time for patrons to come in, walk around and familiarize themselves with the new courthouse.
It is, after all, a building for residents of Hutchinson County to come and conduct their county business.
“We want to have something in the spring, because if we have it in the winter, we’re going to run the risk of having a blizzard. That’s how our luck has been, and then we’d be stuck with all the cake,” Murtha said. “It will be in the spring. We’d rather people come when there aren’t piles of snow. You want to make it so everyone can come.”