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Accessibility, security weren’t big issues when Courthouse was built

Foresight is a funny thing, praised when it’s clear that someone had some of it, but far more often criticized for a lack of it when those of us fortunate to have the advantage of present knowledge say, “Geez, why didn’t they think of that before?” Problem is, it’s often just that simple. Nobody thought of it.

No one alive today should come down too hard on past Clark County government officials, the ones who decided to build the concrete fortress in Neillsville that we all call a courthouse. They had no way of knowing that governments above them would one day mandate such seemingly silly things as equal physical access to public facilities for people with disabilities, nor that society would deteriorate in the early 21st century to the point where we have to worry about such things as fully automatic assault rifles and mass shootings. No, those who made the building plans 50-plus years ago just had a piece of land -- albeit on a hillside -and did their best to construct a jail/ court system/county office facility on it. All in all, it has served its function fairly well, with only one major addition needed over the year, mostly for increased jail space.

However, the Clark County Courthouse, in terms of accessibility and security, is an architectural dinosaur. With five levels of office space, connected by more flights of stairs than a medieval castle, it’s a nightmare for anyone with a cane or a crutch or a chair with wheels. Making it worse, the 30-foot drop in elevation from the south side of the building to the north side creates a hazard just for those wishing to get around it.

In regard to security, there kinda’ is none. The Courthouse has five -- count ‘em -- five different public entrances, none of which have any sort of supervision. Someone bent on harm could enter the building and make their way into most any location (except the courtrooms, where a bailiff is sometimes stationed) without anyone knowing they are there, and maybe armed.

Poor accessibility and security were not in the public building mindset when the Courthouse was built, so, again, take it easy on those who made decisions at the time. Now, though, those issues are of high importance, and estimates show it could take somewhere around $1 million to remedy the situation. Yes, there are less expensive options, but none that are anywhere near ideal.

In essence, this $1 million (or whatever amount it turns out to be) that will be spent in likely the next year or two for Courthouse improvements is the price the county will pay for former leaders choosing to build on an inopportune spot rather than search for a more suitable location (maybe even one near the center of the county?). Had they found a flat building site, and laid out a singlefl oor facility, this probably wouldn’t be an issue now, but then again, how were they to know? The Americans with Disabilities Act wasn’t even a dream yet, and the thought of someone walking armed into a public building with mayhem on their mind was something out of an early James Bond movie.

So, this price the county needs to pay. The county currently has little debt, and with historically low interest rates, the borrowing costs for this project will be light. Although $1 million sounds like a high price, with the county’s property value now over $2 billion (the tax base over which the cost will be spread), the impact will barely be felt by the average taxpayer.

Just one recommendation, though for current county decision-makers. Think ahead when planning this renovation. You’d hate to be accused of a lack of foresight.

Members of the TRG editorial Board include Publisher Kris O’Leary, Editor Dean Lesar, and Carol O’Leary.