A few years ago, a case of violent crime put our Barberton City Hall at a standstill. Not because the double-murder occurred in Barberton, nor were the victims or murder suspect Barberton residents, but because our humble, 50’s-era City Hall could scarcely handle the resulting court case’s preliminary hearing. On the first day of the case in question, Park Avenue was a press of people, TV cameras and media vans, and heavy local and federal security. Mayor Bill Judge, Jr., returned to Barberton City Hall after a meeting on that opening day, to find his way blocked by a highly suspicious Federal Marshall. He demanded to know who the Mayor was – despite onlookers affirming his identity – with hard proof, before he could enter his own offices. The Marshall was none too soft about it.
The public and administrative chaos of that case pointed up some of the significant, physical issues that the old City Hall presents in its roles as administrative offices, police offices, jail *and* court complex. Enter Barberton City Hall, may have been immediately struck by how difficult it is to access or navigate to different parts of the building when personal mobility is a factor. It’s clear that getting to court or council chambers would be a significant headache to someone in a wheelchair, for instance.
City Hall has to accommodate the growing law enforcement needs of – not just Barberton – Green, New Franklin, Norton, Copley, Coventry and Clinton, as well as our administrative needs, and frankly, it’s failing. It isn’t just a matter of accessibility but security, statutory housing requirements for felony and misdemeanor defendants, as well as the needs of general traffic court and civil case load.
Retrofitting the current building is not possible or feasible. Built in 1952, the city was already drawing up plans to replace it in 1958. Somewhere, there are likely even partial blue prints hiding in the archives. Walls within Barberton City Hall are often ten-inch-thick concrete, making even the simple task of pulling internet cables or widening a door nearly impossible, and cost-prohibitive, at best. Because of the Cold War construction, it is a challenge to even keep communications systems running smoothly. Yours truly,for instance, attempted to call City Hall offices a couple of times last year, only to find the phones were down on both occasions. Now, our Mayor and administrators will be safe in an atomic bomb attack, but in 2020, even the inaccessible location of the building precludes it from use as a Justice Center.
The proposed site of a new, Barberton Justice Center will be at the former Pit Stop store location. The city owns several acres of readily build-able land in and around that intersection. Perfect for a multi-use complex. The judges want it and need it, and they have the power to order us to build it.
There are several proposals on the table, to get funding for the complex. The judges filed for a $500,000 reimbursable grant two years ago, which the state finally released to us. The Mayor appealed to the state for a $15,000,000 grant two years ago, as well, to fund the rest of the project. Very unfortunately, despite our demonstrable, practical needs, the state granted $15,000,000 to a soccer stadium project in Columbus, instead. This left us with no funds and a need to get very creative with funding ideas. Most unfairly (in my opinion), we cannot tax the surrounding townships for their use of our court system, and pools of tax funds that the city has, have to be used for very specific purposes. The surrounding communities pay to use our system, but it amounts to fees – not infrastructure.
Given that we may well be ordered to build this center – and this is not from the office of the Mayor, but the Judiciary – what are your fundraising ideas? Can we do grassroots funding? Naming rights funding? Special levy (and YES! I know there is a short-term property tax on the ballot, but that is unrelated)? Is it time that we, as the Barberton community, have a very serious, frank discussion with our council members about what services we receive that we are wiling to cut? It’s time we tighten our belts and take a hard look at what we have to do to make our communities safer.