The Nome Courthouse is too expensive to keep on Front Street, according to court administrators. Now construction is already underway for a new courthouse in the same building as Trinity Sails and Repair (TSR), known to many as the old Nome hospital.
KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter looks into planned updates for the court building and how court operations could change in the new TSR space:
By the summer of 2020, the visitors on the other side of this automotive shop will be sitting in jury-trials or filing court orders instead of waiting for an oil change or tire rotation.
“So there’s four firewalls between us and the shop.”– Rolland Trowbridge
Rolland Trowbridge is the building owner and one of the partners in the new courthouse project. His new partner is Drake Construction.
Trowbridge: “We’re forming an LLC for the project and then that LLC will own the building together. KNOM: “The courthouse building?” Trowbridge: Yeah, well actually the entire space, the entire structure.”
The soon to be new courthouse location was formerly a daycare, but that business moved out and Trowbridge needed to fill it. That’s when he was made aware of a request for proposal for bids on the Nome courthouse by local realtor Robin Johnson.
Out of three companies that bid on the project to become the new Nome courthouse, Drake Construction Inc. managed to be the most-responsive, according to court administrator Brodie Kimmel. In other words, it achieved the most of what the bid was looking for, while costing the least amount of money. The main thing the Kotzebue-based construction company lacked was ownership of the building; but that issue will be resolved through its new LLC with Trowbridge.
Court administrator Brodie Kimmel says the current Nome courthouse is at the end of its eligible lease extension and that the cost of updating it in the Front Street location is prohibitively expensive. The current lease term is owned by Front Properties and while Kimmel explains they had originally been given the contract in 2013, that was eventually rejected.
“On February 27th, 2014 Front Properties declined to sign that contract as I believe the cost to bring that building, this current building, up to codes, standards, and amenities was much more than they had anticipated or estimated.”
For the past five years, the current courthouse has just been on a contract extension.
Not everyone is exactly thrilled with the upcoming change in location. Nome District Attorney John Earthman acknowledges that the court is making a business decision, but he has enjoyed being able to walk across the street to court from his Front Street office and says the court has been great for his practice over the last twenty years. The DA’s office, Earthman says, was not consulted about the decision.
The monthly expected base bid for the new courthouse is $35,000, up from the current lease of $34,782. Kimmel says they also expect to be paying more than that with some additional contract additions beyond the original bid.
The new space starts at over $200 per month more than the current Front Street lease but Kimmel explains how different the space is expected to be.
“It’s hard to compare apples to apples on the size of the two facilities but we’ll have two fully functioning courtrooms. Right now we have one courtroom that’s set up to handle jury trials and this new courtroom will have two courtrooms set up to handle jury trials.”
Currently, offenders and accompanying security often have to use a spare office while they wait for court proceedings in the courthouse, but Kimmel explains that the new space is expected to have a separate holding and entry cell. Along with that will be more room for jury deliberation and an accessible ADA compliant bathroom that doesn’t require the user to go through the clerk’s office. Unlike the current Nome courthouse on Front Street, it will be all one floor with handicap-accessible ramps.
Trowbridge is excited to see Nome citizens using spaces for new purposes that were once important to the community long ago.
“This green floor is the birthing room. So, like, so many people have had their children in this room right here. The birthing room is basically the entrance and the lobby, so there’s going to be space. So not only are you going to have road level-entry, you’ll be able to park at the courthouse. Staff is going to have separate parking on the other side of the building and prisoner driveway is going to have its own separate drive way and entrance.”
The lease for the new courthouse is good for 20 years. Internal work is already well-underway, since the space already has heating, Trowbridge expects work to continue all winter. Operations are expected to begin in the new courthouse location in July.
Image at top: Site of the new Nome Courthouse. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).