Jones: Cost of courthouse annex rising

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Kane told Osage County commissioners last week that the District Attorney’s Office remained optimistic about being able to move ahead with discussion of the potential use of federal relief funds to help pay for a new courthouse annex in Pawhuska.

District Attorney Mike Fisher on July 12 proposed to the commissioners that some of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds could be used to help with the construction of a new courthouse annex. The county is to receive a total of slightly more than $9 million of ARPA money. It has already received the first half of that sum.

Fisher was on the commissioners’ July 26 agenda to make additional remarks, but Kane explained that the district attorney had injured his back and could not be present. Kane indicated it was possible that companies could make presentations to the county board in mid-August about a courthouse annex project.

The subject of building a courthouse annex was placed on the county board’s agenda for Monday of this week, as well.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones commented July 26 that the estimated cost of a 26,000-square-foot courthouse annex in 2016 was about $7.1 million. The per-square-foot cost has increased since then by some $75 a square foot, and the present-day cost of the same annex would be about $9.1 million, he said. That would not include related costs such as engineering, he said.

Renovating the existing courthouse, which dates to 1914, or building a new one has been a hard sell in Osage County. Voters defeated a ballot measure in 2011 by a landslide, and a select committee that studied the county’s courthouse needs in 2016-17 accumulated a wealth of detail, but nothing was ever placed on a ballot for a public determination. Fisher served on that select committee.

Former District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay tried unsuccessfully in the 2018-19 time frame to restart discussions about a new courthouse, but nothing came of it besides spirited exchanges.

In other developments related to buildings used at least in part for judicial branch governmental purposes, the Osage Nation Congress last week considered a bill that would appropriate $7.5 million of ARPA funds toward the cost of improvements to the Osage Nation’s current judicial building, and toward the design, engineering and construction of a new judicial building.

The measure received a favorable vote in committee action and was prepared for further consideration.

The Osage Nation has recently re-asserted its position that its reservation was never properly disestablished by the U.S. Congress. That re-assertion, in the form of an amicus brief in a case before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, could be acted upon, and the Osage Nation could be judged to form a portion of what has been classified as “Indian Country” for purposes of prosecuting major criminal cases in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision.