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Kalamazoo County Begins Work On New Courthouse

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John McNeill
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WMUK

Kalamazoo County has broken ground for its new court complex. The $97-million complex will be in downtown Kalamazoo.

The County will move all of its circuit and district court operations into the new building on Kalamazoo Avenue near the County's administration building. Chief Judge Alexander Lipsey says the new facility will be, in his words, a “godsend.”

"Having all of the different components that are presently are in the Michigan Avenue courthouse and the Crosstown courthouse all consolidated into that one facility will make things a lot easier and hopefully provide better service to the community."

The new court complex is expected to open in 2023.

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Credit Kalamazoo County Government
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Kalamazoo County Government
Architect's rendering of Kalamazoo County's new courthouse

The groundbreaking for the new justice complex took place a day after the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Kalamazoo County Commission Chair Tracy Hall says she was reluctant at first to support the new justice Facility. But Hall says she changed her mind because of the progressive way the County's courts operate.

"(With) our specialty court, in addition to the way that our Kalamazoo Defender, Inc., does its work, allowed me to feel more comfortable supporting this project."

The Kalamazoo Defender office handles criminal defense cases for people who can't afford a lawyer.

George Floyd's death energized calls by the Black Lives Matter movement for criminal justice reform. Kalamazoo County District Judge Christopher Haenicke says the County's courts have been working on the issue for years.

"About two years ago, we obtained grant funding to bring in a speaker to do a full-court, two-day training on implicit bias and procedural fairness."

Haenicke says that's on top of an aggressive effort to expunge old criminal records, and diversion programs for people with mental illness, substance abuse, and other underlying problems.

Hall says the current courthouse on Michigan Avenue is obsolete and leaks when it rains. And she says the building the new one will be a big boost for the area's economy.

"If we're going to do this, we want to make sure that as many jobs stay local as possible. And through the bidding process, 90-percent will be local, and $45 million will go to (workers represented by) labor unions."