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The Administrative Office of the Courts has agreed to spend more than $100,000 to build a fence around the air-conditioning unit at the new judicial center in Shelbyville because some of the judges who work in the building have said they find the unit unsightly.
The AOC has contracted with Hubbard Construction of Georgetown to build a 13-foot-high metal barrier at a cost of $109,197 – an expense that some officials are questioning and some state employees are saying is outrageous, especially because the center is being closed for three mandatory furlough days starting Aug. 6 that were implemented to help balance the state’s budget.
“They’re putting an eighty-thousand-dollar fence up around the air-conditioning unit at the courthouse, and we’re being furloughed this month, next month and the month after that,” said a person who works in the building who was granted anonymity because of a fear of employment reprisals. “It’s really aggravating.”
This 58,000-square-foot facility opened in December at a cost of $18 million, but this screen was not part of the original plan, said Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, who is chair of the judicial center’s project development board.
“Originally they had planned some landscaping that would grow in and cover it, but the judges did not want to wait for five or ten years for the landscaping to completely fill in,” he said.
Rothenburger said the issue arose because no one anticipated that the unit – which is situated on the northwest corner of the property, next to the parking lot for Centenary United Methodist Church – would be as large and visible as it is, and the judges who preside in the courtrooms at the judicial center and who have their offices on the west side of its fourth floor – principally, he said, Family Court Judge John David Myles – proposed the project.
Rothenburger said the project development board approved the fence because the AOC said it would pay the bill.
“The AOC is the principal body that oversees these projects, and they just said the money has been allocated for this project,” he said.
Rothenburger said he is among those who wonder how the AOC could afford to spend so much on such projects given the furlough days.
“There have been some expenses that have been pretty exorbitant connected with the building, and in lieu of the economic struggles that the state of Kentucky is undergoing, and what they’ve had to do to balance the budget, well…” he said.
Myles, Circuit Judge Charles Hickman and District Judge Linda Armstrong were unavailable for comment Thursday, but District Judge Donna Dutton said she was not one of those asking for special screening to be erected.
“It was not at this judge’s request,” she said. “I didn’t even know about it until recently. I’m not sure why we even really need it, but I guess we do.”
The judges all had input into the construction of the judicial center project initially and worked with the architect to express how they wanted their courtrooms to look.
Hubbard official Pete Hubbard said construction of the screen would begin within a couple of days and should be completed in “no longer than three weeks.”
Bill Pickering, architect for the project, with CMW Inc. of Lexington, said the screen will consist of a 13-foot, metal screen that will enclose the unit on three sides.
“Just think of a U-shaped ventilation grill,” he said. “The blades are horizontal.”
Pickering said the materials for the fencing, which would extend approximately 40 to 45 running feet, will cost $32,000, with the frame and concrete at $30,000 to $40,000 and labor costing between $47,000 and $50,000.
A survey by The Sentinel-Newsof commercial fencing companies revealed that the $32,000 for a fence of this description is an average price.
But Pickering said the final version of the screen was not the first thing proposed. There was talk of simply painting the unit to match the building. That idea was nixed, as was the idea of building a stone wall around it.
“That would have cost even more,” he said.
The idea of building a wooden fence to enclose it would not work, either, he said.
“Wood is cheaper, yes, but there is a limit to the longevity of wood, and also, there needs to be openings to facilitate air flow, and if you did that with wood, people would say, ‘Well, you spent that kind of money, and you can still see it.’ So that wouldn’t work. So based on the parameters that were defined, and the parameters that were necessary for the cooling tower, it’s a very reasonable solution.”
Hubbard said that at least the construction of the screen was not going to cause any inconvenience to anyone using the facility, because it was not going to cause parking issues.
“It will be finished before you know it and will look much better than it does now,” he said.