Panel seeks courthouse ideas

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Specific details about their recommendations for improving the workability of the aged local courthouse are still being ironed out, but members of the Osage County Courthouse Review Committee told a group of concerned residents Monday that one thing is certain.

“We’ve nixed anything along the lines of that 2011 proposal,” said District Judge John Kane said, referring to a $25 million renovation/expansion project that was soundly defeated by county voters.

Around 70 persons attended the weekly meeting of the county’s select committee. (Committee meetings are held from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Osage County Sheriff’s Department’s new Learning/Education Center — located adjacent to the Osage County Jail.)

While several of the committee’s members and many of the persons in attendance spoke in favor of maintaining the existing 101-year-old courthouse for some governmental functions, there was no clear consensus on what might be possible.

The committee’s other co-chairman, Mike Tolson said recent studies had found the existing courthouse to be structurally sound, although he added that major renovations would need to be undertaken to make it functional in the modern sense.

Committee members had solicited public input at their weekly meeting. Resident attendance was encouraged so they could “hear about the possible renovation of the courthouse and either the county-owned Kennedy or Whiting Buildings.”

Both of those historic structures are located on Kihekah. The Whiting contains the offices of the District Attorney, as well as the county Election Board, Nutrition Program and Planning Commission. Until last fall, the Kennedy Building housed the local offices for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

A straw poll taken late in the session (after nearly half the attendees had departed) showed the residents to be fairly-evenly divided in their preference between the two buildings as potential auxiliary locations for county offices.

Committee member Mike Fisher mentioned an incident last Friday which he said illustrated the need for a new facility. Fisher, the chief assistant of Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan, said emergency medical personnel were called when a prisoner in the third-floor courtroom was apparently having a stroke.

In that regard, Tolson called the current courthouse “a ticking time bomb.”

Other members of the committee include Osage County Undersheriff Lou Ann Brown, local construction contractor Jerry Loftis, Pawhuska businesswoman Cathy Ross and Fairfax businessman Berry Keeler.