Kent -- The city's new $10 million courthouse is yet another sign of its reinvigorated downtown.
But for those inside, Kent's Portage County Municipal Court is a safer, brighter, tidier and more efficient place to work. The courthouse began its first day of operations April 7.
"It's much nicer. Everything's cleaner and more spacious," said Joe Kramer, a Portage County sheriff's deputy with more than 34 years in law enforcement. "But the biggest thing we're concerned about is security, and this is very secure."
Kramer marveled at how remarkably different the building at 303 E. Main St. is from its Water Street predecessor, which began operations as a court in the late '80s in a converted post office.
In the former building, prisoners were transported in the same hallways used by the public. Prosecutors worked out of closet-sized offices, and there were no truly private rooms for attorney-client discussions.
Clerks worked in an open office with only a wood counter separating them from often irate visitors and offenders. Court files required to be maintained for 50 years by state law were damaged by mold festering in a damp, leaky basement where rodents were a common sight.
"Professional is the key word," Kramer said. "This place is much more professional."
Kramer gestured to "the girls" comprising the court's staff of clerks and assistants, who are now protected with locked doors and hallways and a counter resting under tempered security glass separating them from the public.
"Our job is to provide security, and this makes that a lot easier," he said.
The bright, two-story building is now properly divided with public spaces and the clerk of courts offices on the first floor and the judge's courtroom, magistrate's hearing room, chambers and support staff offices on the second floor.
Two elevators service the building -- one in front for the public and the second in back to move prisoners from a holding area to the courtroom.
"It's an unbelievable difference," said Lori Evans, administrative assistant to the clerk of courts, who no longer has to share an office with the magistrate. "The conditions before were not good."
"This is a much better environment compared to what we were in before," said Stephanie Tarr, criminal and civil division supervisor.
Another big change is acclimating to refreshed technology like new phones and computers. However, she said that's a welcomed "problem" to have.
Judges have said an official ribbon-cutting/grand-opening ceremony will take place in May after completion of some finishing touches outside. "Once we get the landscaping done," Kramer said, "I think it's going to be a jewel of Kent."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4155