The Jefferson County Courthouse, which was built in 1863 and has undergone several updates and additions through the years, will receive one more before 2020 is over.
The Jefferson County Council voted unanimously Oct. 13 to award a $221,544 contract to Boyer Building and Design in De Soto to remodel and add on to the back entrance of the Courthouse, 300 Main St., in Hillsboro.
Boyer was the lowest of four bidders for the work.
Public Works Director Jason Jonas said the project involves enclosing the ramp and stairs into the back of the Courthouse, which for several years has served as the main entrance. Also, the vestibule will be expanded.
“This is the entrance off First Street,” Jonas said. “What we have now is a situation where people who are wanting to get into the Courthouse are backed up. They have to go through a security check first and then a health screening that’s right on top of the security check. It takes a while to go through all that, and people who are trying to social distance are backed up outside the building and in the elements.”
When the project is finished, there will be a roof over the ramp and stairway, Jonas said.
“The stairway will be moved so it faces the ramp rather than how it is now, at a 90-degree angle to it. The entire thing will be enclosed by glass, and it will be tinted so you won’t be able to tell from the outside who is waiting in line.”
The enclosure, he said, should allow a line of 12 people to remain at least 6 feet apart while waiting their turn to be admitted into the building.
In addition, Jonas said, the vestibule will be expanded by 300 square feet, which will allow the health checkpoint to be moved closer to the door.
“What people will enter first is the health checkpoint, which will be similar to the ones in the Administration Center and the Annex that allows a scan of people’s foreheads for temperature,” he said. “There’s also room for someone to record contact tracing information and, if they need to, ask health-related questions.”
The realignment will put the health checkpoint before the security area, where visitors are asked to walk through a metal detector while personal items are placed on a belt and scanned.
“Putting the deputies up front with very little room and with people who haven’t yet been screened puts them at risk,” Jonas said. “This will help alleviate that problem.”
He said the work is underway and is expected to be finished before Christmas.
Jonas said the sidewalk in front of the Courthouse and First Street will remain unchanged.
He acknowledged talks are ongoing about building a new Courthouse but said the changes that are in the works are necessary.
“If the funding was identified today, a new building would be five, maybe 10 years out,” he said. “These are changes that need to be done now, for the safety of our employees and the public.”
If a health screening area is deemed unnecessary in the future, the space could be used by an employee who could serve as a greeter or someone who could answer general questions about where to seek county services, Jonas said.
He said the money for the project will be funded with the county’s share of the $26.4 million it has received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
While the project is underway, those entering the Courthouse are using the original front entrance on Main Street. However, traffic at the Courthouse is minimal since Presiding Judge Darrell Missey signed an order on Nov. 9 returning the building to Operating Phase Zero under the Missouri Supreme Court’s Operational Directives for the coronavirus.
The phase is invoked after a court employee, bailiff or other court personnel tests positive for COVID-19.
Missey’s order noted that someone working in the building had tested positive and that multiple employees who worked with the person who tested positive were ill.
Under Phase Zero, most in-person hearings are not held and access to the Courthouse is greatly limited.
If no further positive tests occur in two weeks, the presiding judge has the authority to ease the restrictions.
Also on Nov. 9, Missey ordered the Circuit Clerk’s Office, which is located in the Courthouse, to close after “a significant percentage of the clerks (were) experiencing symptoms,” leaving too few employees to run the office efficiently.
According to social media posts from the office, it won’t reopen until Monday, Nov. 23.
In the meantime, court filings may be submitted electronically, and traffic tickets and other court costs may be paid online.
Those involved with legal cases are encouraged to contact their attorney about the status of their cases while access to the Courthouse is restricted.