By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The long-awaited Kay County Courthouse Annex project is finally getting under way, as the Kay County Board of Commissioners voted to approve 16 construction bids at the June 16 Commission meeting, with initial construction set to begin within the next 30 days.
The 16 bids totaled $2,484,336.70. The project is managed by Kyler Scott Builders, and bids entailed a variety of activities, including concrete and steel work, HVAC installation, fire protection systems, windows, roofing, plumbing and carpentry work.
There remains contracts that have not yet been awarded.
The Annex will house most county offices, including Kay County clerk, treasurer, election board, accessor and OSU Extension, leaving the Courthouse facility for court operations, including the Kay County court clerk, district attorney’s office and court proceedings.
Constructed in 1925 – 1926, the Courthouse was originally large enough to accommodate all county activities. Through the years, though, the Kay County Courthouse has seen a great increase in court operations, and the county population has also grown, making it difficult to operate along with the other county offices.
“The number of criminal proceedings has grown considerably,” said Kay County District Attorney Brian Hermanson. “Lawyers have to visit in the hallways instead of in private. Right now, we have four judges, and three courtrooms. Our office is basically a very tight space, and we need more room to do what we need to do.”
There are also problems with the building itself, such as roof leaks, electrical and plumbing problems, asbestos issues and exposed pipes.
“The building is nearly 100 years old, and it’s starting to show it,” Hermanson said.
The Annex is expected to not only streamline operations for all county offices, but expand access to the court system. Also, the public will have better access to offices outside the court system, especially on court dates, as well as better parking along the west and south areas of the Annex.
“It’ll have easier access for citizens to be able to get in and out. It’ll have better lighting, better air flow, better everything,” Hermanson said. “I think the citizens will love it, have better access to the Courthouse and a better experience.”
All county offices moving to the Annex will see better operations, especially the Extension office and Election Board.
The Extension office has five employees, which leaves them little room for storage or other activities, forcing them to accommodate facilities off-campus for those needs. They also hold a lot of meetings offsite, such as in Blackwell and Ponca City.
The Annex will offer them the space for all such activities.
“We don’t have a whole lot of space for storage, and especially with social distancing, it is hard to space everyone out if they come in,” said Extension Director Brenda Medlock. “It’ll be nice in the new building, to thin everyone out and have a place to do workshops and training. We’ll have a kitchen and conference area, so that’ll be very nice.”
The Election Board also has problems with storage, especially with upcoming elections, such as the June 30 Primary and Special election, which has elections in Newkirk, Kildare and Blackwell.
“We have supplies that are not stored in the Election Board, and have to go off site,” said Election Board Secretary Cheryl Howard. “We have dire storage issues in the Election Board, and are anxious to be in one office.”
Having the Annex would streamline voting concerns, as well as training opportunities.
“We’ll be able to do the precinct training in the Annex,” Howard said. “We are excited about getting the Annex, and we hope it’ll be a better experience for in-person voting before Election Day, because we will have room to do it, and it will have easier access to the public. We look forward to the groundbreaking, and our new future in the Annex.”
As for the Kay County Courthouse itself, it will be remodeled to fit the District Court, which includes a new courtroom along with attorney-client meeting rooms. How that will look remains to be seen.
The Court clerk’s office will also be combined into one office. Currently, it’s spread among three offices between the third and fourth floors of the Courthouse.
“I have eight people in main office. Across the lobby, I have two staff members, and two on the fourth floor,” said Court Clerk Marilee Thornton. “My entire office will be in one place, which will make it easier on my staff, and it will improve cross training.”
Although not all bids have been accepted, construction on approved bids can move forward, which is expected within the month.
“We can go ahead and start without the other bids. We haven’t done any official action on those bids yet,” said District Two Comnmisioner Jason Shanks.
The county employees within the courthouse are happy about the project and look forward to better operations when it opens.
“We’re excited about the start of construction, and hopefully, in a year, we’ll be in a different building,” Medlock said.
Hermanson added, “We’re very grateful to the citizens of Kay County for the remodeling. It’s the people’s Courthouse, and hopefully it’ll last another 100 years.”