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Benton County Considers New Courthouse

Officials are considering options for a new court facility to replace the aging Benton County Courthouse.
Benton County, AR - Officials are considering options for a new court facility to replace the aging Benton County Courthouse.

The building is 85 years old, and County Judge Bob Clinard says it's time to build a new facility that can serve Benton County for decades to come.
Clinard says the courthouse, built in 1928, no longer meets building codes, and it leaks.

"We've got buckets above the ceiling in the judge's office to catch the water when it rains," he says. "We need new courts facilities, not any question about it... It's time to start talking about doing something for the next 80 years."

A new roof is already in the 2014 budget, but Clinard says the growing county needs more courtrooms. A new feasibility study breaks down the cost for three different options, and predicts future need through 2030, based on the last decade's growth.

"We're looking at all options, and we're going to look at what we think we need before we just say this is how much money we can spend," Clinard says. "We need to be thinking about expanding for the future, get it to 2030, but then we're going to continue to grow, and supposedly we'll be the most populous county in the state by 2030."

The estimated prices range from $48 to $53 million, and all three include spending $8 to $9 million dollars to bring the historic courthouse up to current standards.

"It's just too much historical presence on the square to let the building, to do something with the building like take it down or something," he says. "It needs to stay as a county functioning facility."

Clinard hasn't heard any opposition to preserving the building, but he says the taxpayers will have a say on its cost.

"The people are going to speak," he says. "The people are going to decide, do they want to spend $8 or $9 million dollars to renovate the old courthouse."

Two of the options keep the court facilities in the downtown area, while the third moves the building next to the jail on Highway 102. Clinard says each option has advantages, and disadvantages.

The final draft of the study is expected sometime this week, and the judge expects to spend the next few months discussing the options, as well as how much the county wants to spend. He says a completed building is at least four or five years down the road.
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