MANTI—The long-delayed state courthouse in Manti appears to have a good chance of being funded by the next Utah Legislature based on the ranking it received from the Utah State Building Board following a meeting Nov. 3.
However, the courthouse as endorsed by the Building Board was scaled down significantly from the original proposal.
The joint House-Senate Infrastructure and General Government Subcommittee (IGG), which funds state buildings, did not approve the courthouse during the 2021 session because some committee members thought the proposed building was too elaborate.
This latest proposal pares the original cost from $20.46 million down to $16.1 million. The size of the building has been cut from the 30,221 square feet proposed in the last Legislature to 28,721 square feet, a difference of 1,500 square feet. And the cost per square foot has been cut from the $712 proposed to the last Legislature down to $562.
Following the Nov. 3 meeting, the Building Board designated the Sanpete County courts building as the No. 3 priority among nine buildings presented. The Building Board was only considering requests from state government agencies. There are separate lists and separate prioritization processes for public education and higher education buildings.
Advocates for the new courthouse at the Nov. 3 meeting included Chris Talbot, facilities director for the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts; Sanpete County Sheriff Jared Buchanan; and Rep. Steve Lund, who represents Sanpete County in the Utah House of Representatives; among others.
Talbot said a new courthouse in Sanpete County has been the top building priority for the Administrative Office of the Courts for six years.
Sheriff Buchanan described the security concerns in the present Sanpete County Courthouse. He noted there are five entrances to the building and no security checkpoint until someone is just outside the door of the courtroom.
Other concerns are prisoners waiting in hallways, no separation between jail and prison inmates, no separation between male and female prisoners, and prisoners lined up along a hall that judges must use to access their chambers.
In an interview last week, Rep. Lund said the main question Building Board members posed to Sanpete County representatives at the Nov. 3 meeting was whether the scaled-down building would meet the needs of the court system. Lund said the unanimous answer from county representatives was “no.”
“We told them, ‘We will outgrow this building as soon as it’s built, but we’ll take what we can get,’’’ Lund said in an interview following the meeting.
After the courthouse was left out of the budget during the 2021 general session, a special session last May appropriated $2 million for design and preparation of bid documents.
The design contract has been awarded to VCBO Architects of Salt Lake City and St. George, which has built several other courthouses in the state. VCBO has started working on the plans, Talbot said.
Kevin Daniels, Sanpete County attorney, who was also interviewed last week, said his biggest concern regarding the present courthouse is security. “When we bring prisoners in there [to the present courthouse], I have to line them up in the open hallway where there is no separation between the inmates and courthouse staff, or even the public,” he said. “It’s potentially a very dangerous situation.”
To prove his point, Daniels said his office prosecutes crimes committed by prisoners at the Central Utah Correctional Facility. He cited a recent incident in which a “shank” (homemade knife) was discovered in the parking lot where transport vehicles drop off prisoners.
Security isn’t the only problem, Daniels said. “We only have one courtroom in this building [the current courthouse], and it is overwhelmed. I’ve seen our felony caseload double in just the past year. Cases are getting delayed because we simply can’t fit them in.”
The 6th District Court calendar for Nov. 15-19 was 32 pages, with an average of 2.5 cases per page. That translates to about 80 cases total. A calendar for roughly the same calendar week in 2018 was 12 pages, which translated to about 30 cases.
“It’s not just the criminal cases that are being delayed,” Daniels said. “Civil cases are dragging out sometimes for more than a year and a half because it’s so difficult to get a court date.”
Other limitations are built into the current courthouse structure, he said. The sandstone walls make internet service inside the building difficult. Daniels said the day before, one of his cases experienced delays because of Internet signal problems.