MAHONING COMMISSIONERS Court space consolidation on agenda

The county spends more than $200,000 a year on rent for the three courts.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners and the county's area court judges will meet later this month to discuss options for consolidating court space.
Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss lease agreements for the county's four area courts and the feasibility of putting three of the four courts in a centralized location.
Attending the meeting were Richard Malagisi, county facilities director; Colleen Ingram, county courts administrator; James Fortunato, county purchasing director; Nicholas Modarelli, chief assistant county prosecutor; Scott Grossen, clerk of courts office administrator; and James Petraglia, human resources director.
Commissioners are authorized to provide space for the area courts, with the agreement of the judges.
The county's area courts are in Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring. The lease agreement for the Austintown court, located in the Austintown Plaza, expired in November and is being continued month to month.
The lease agreement for the Boardman court in the Boardman Plaza ends Feb. 28, and the lease for the Canfield court, located at 72 N. Broad St., expires in March. The lease for the Sebring court, 605 E. Ohio Ave., runs through 2007.
At the forefront of the discussion was whether it is cost efficient to pay vendors for court space or should the county use that money to either consolidate the courts in one building or construct a facility to house the courts.
Because the area court in Sebring is at the far reaches of Mahoning County near the Stark County line, county officials said it was best to always have a separate lease agreement for that site.
The other three, however, are close enough to one another to discuss consolidation.
Commissioner David Ludt said he has long wanted to consolidate the court space in one facility, saying it would be a cost savings to the county. A study was done a few years ago on such a proposal, but went no where, he added.
Malagisi and Ingram said it is difficult to draw up a universal set of specifications for court space for vendors to bid on because each court has different needs.
Malagisi said the county has land behind Austinwoods Nursing Home it could build on, and is renting space at 108 Westchester Drive, Austintown, which is occupied by the county's recycling division and lead-based paint abatement office. Austintown Township owns the building.
He said there is about 30,000 square feet available in the Westchester building, which he felt would be sufficient to meet the needs of the three courts.
"What you are paying yearly in rent [for the three county courts] would be more than enough to buy that building," Malagisi said.
The county is paying $44,000 a year in rent for both the recycling division and lead-abatement offices, and $203,958 a year for the Boardman, Austintown and Canfield court locations.
Modarelli said commissioners should meet with the county court judges to get a consensus of what they want to accomplish and to look at the numbers associated with all the options.
But Ingram, Modarelli and Malagisi said it is imperative a new home for the Boardman court be found, as the current space is inadequate, cockroaches have been discovered in the building, and there is no heat in the judge's chambers.
Malagisi said he would look for alternative sites in Boardman and report his findings to commissioners.

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