Allegan County expands footprint with $10M building project

The Allegan County Courthouse is expanding its services and its footprint. 

Construction at the building, which will include an updated lobby and room for another circuit court judge. Work that will make more services available at the County Services Building also is progressing, and is ahead of schedule. 

In the meantime, the 57th District Court has added an attorney magistrate.

“We recognized that we had a unique and valuable team member in the person of Jessica Winsemius, who was an accomplished attorney with extensive criminal law experience as both a defense and prosecution attorney,” Chief District Court Judge William A. Baillargeon says. 

In her expanded capacity, Winsemius will review warrants and advise individuals of their rights in arraignments, allowing the judges to focus more on trials, hearings, and specialty court demands. 

“This has helped streamline matters in the district court at little to no expense to the taxpayers of Allegan County,”  Baillargeon says.

New judge

Part of the courthouse project is to accommodate a new circuit court judge. The additional seat was included in the 2023 state budget and must be filled by Dec. 31. The county is building a new courtroom and office space for the new judge, their support staff, and other court functions within the existing courthouse at 113 Chestnut St. in Allegan

Work on the southeast corner of the courthouse began in December and must be complete by the end of the year. The area has been excavated in preparation for concrete footers to be poured.

Construction on the Allegan County Services Building is ahead of schedule.

The county planned ahead for the expansion and will not need to issue a bond or otherwise borrow money for the $10 million project — a fraction of the cost for potential new construction, county officials say.

“The addition of a new circuit court judge was a factor, but even independent of that it was very clear the courthouse had surpassed its needs of being a complete service building,”  County Administrator Rob Sarro says.

County Services building, Ahead of schedule

Although any construction includes numerous variables, the project is ahead of schedule.

“There’s certainly going to need to be some patience and grace as there’s going to be the typical noises, the ‘pardon our dust’ kind of activities,” Sarro says.

The county has a history of repurposing buildings to save money, from the corrections center and sheriff’s office (a former factory) to its mental health facility (a former big box store).

Work at the County Services Building will be substantially complete by the end of the summer.

The full project isn’t expected to be complete until May 2025. Framing is well underway at the courthouse and work at the County Services Building with the new public service lobby is taking shape, officials say. At the County Services Building access to the existing lobby, the lobby bathrooms, vending machines, and county reception area will remain open and free from obstruction during construction. 

“With this phase of the courthouse project we are working very hard to isolate that and keep it enclosed,” says Executive Director of Operations Steve Sedore, who is the lead on the project.

Accessing services

Work at the County Services Building, at 3283 122nd Ave.will be substantially complete by the end of the summer.

“While the principal elected office will still be in the courthouse, the services will be available at both locations,” Sarro says.

The county’s 2021 strategic plan called to move any non-court-related functions to the County Services Building with the intent of developing courthouse space for court functions, making efficient use of available space, creating easier access to services for customers, and saving significant money over new construction.

The principal offices of the elected officials and related services will still be available in the courthouse, so the public won’t lose access to their elected officials such as the county register of deeds, drain commissioner, and treasurer. The county clerk also operates as the clerk of the Circuit Court and is expected to remain in the courthouse.

But for now, with county services available only in the courthouse, the public has to go through security to perform a task as simple as obtaining a duplicate birth certificate. 

“If there’s a jury trial — or two — in the courthouse, (the public) has to traipse across a block of parked cars, go through security, only to make a transaction that should be 30 seconds or a minute,” says Allegan County Board Chairman Jim Storey.

The County Services Building is closer to more of the county’s population and will allow for easier access to services.

The county also is examining how to use technology to make its services more easily accessible. With 900 square miles in Allegan County, technology is equally important to serving the public, Sarro says.

“If you need to come in and work with us, we want to help you in the most efficient way possible,” he says. “At the same time, we keep exploring technology to not force you to need to come in here.”

The county has been adding services to its website such as dog licenses and access to vital records, mapping and GIS services. 

Statue moved

In December 2023, the county completed the move of its Civil War memorial statue. The statue of a prototypical Union soldier was placed in the southeast corner of the courthouse square in 1903. Now, it’s at the northwest corner of the property, facing south. 

“Allegan County sent a number of its sons to fight in the Civil War,” Storey says.

The one requirement of the Allegan County Historical Society was that the statue always face south.

Photos courtesy of Allegan County.
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