GREEN LAKE COUNTY, Wis. (WTAQ) - Green Lake County has a grand opening for its new justice center this weekend. Backers say the project is long overdue, but critics say the justice center’s location a few miles from the downtown will hurt local business.
Currently, most county workers are based in Green Lake’s historic courthouse, built in 1898. It’s not big enough to house the county’s roughly 150 workers. Many work in dark, crammed spaces filled with furniture and people.
Green Lake County Clerk Marge Bostelmann says offices are housed either in the old courthouse or an old gear factory. She says the courthouse has only 37 jail cells, which means when they have more prisoners than space, they have to house them in different facilities in other counties.
At 122,000 square feet, the new justice center has space, including more than 100 jail cells. Improved security is another feature at the new center.
The $32 million Justice Center was funded largely through a half-percent sales tax enacted by the County in 1999. The recession’s helped lower contractor fees, which made construction come nearly $1 million under budget.
But some locals say despite the savings, Green Lake’s downtown shops and restaurants will suffer after the county’s workers are moved to the new justice center several miles away. Backers of the new justice center say its location gave them room to expand and modernize county services, something that wasn’t possible with the old courthouse and its one-block space. And they say they’ll find something eventually for the old courthouse.
Possibilities include low-income housing, a Native American-owned casino, or a wellness center. County government and law enforcement offices are still being transitioned into the building, but officials say it’ll eventually house 150 county workers and 100 inmates.