What you need to know
For three decades, Akron Municipal Court judges, court clerks and other court employees have spoken out about the need for a new court.
Several sites were considered, then discarded.
Years passed and conditions in the current courthouse continued to deteriorate.
But now, it’s finally happened.
Next week the court will move from the old Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center down the block to renovated space in what has long been known as the Oliver Ocasek Building. This building will have a sign reading “Akron Municipal Court” on the front entrance when the switch officially occurs on Monday, November 13.
Although they are excited about the move, court officials are concerned about people not knowing where to go.
“People are going to feel very confused,” predicted Debbie Walsh, an Akron employee whose office worked at both locations while moving from one building to the next.
Ultimately, Walsh said, “We’re trying to make it easier for the public and the police.”
Problems in the nine-story Stubbs Building, built in 1966, included elevators that constantly malfunctioned, unpredictable heating and cooling, the inability to separate witnesses, victims and defendants or the inability of attorneys to meet with their clients privately.
The updated five-story Ocasek Building is expected to address these concerns. The renovations cost about $30 million, covered mostly by court fees and financing assistance through the Summit County Development Finance Authority. The project took approximately three years.
more: An Akron company is moving forward with plans to acquire the Ocasek Building to house the municipal court
Here’s a look at the plans for the courthouse makeover and the future of the Stubbs Building and police department.
What will remain in the Stubbs Building?
The Akron Police Department will remain located in the Stubbs Building at 217 S. High St., at least for the time being.
People who need to file a complaint or meet with an officer will continue to go to this building.
However, anyone with business at the court will now need to go to the new court building.
How do I get to the new Akron Municipal Court building?
The only way in or out of the new courthouse, located at 172 S. Broadway St., will be through an entrance on the Broadway side.
Other entrances and the skywalk, which had fallen into disrepair and was considered too expensive to repair, were closed.
Limited access to the building will make it safer and eliminate the need for security officers at multiple locations, said Akron Judge John Oldham, who served as court liaison for the project.
Security will be provided by Akron officers and a private security company that was already working at the building.
Will there be after-hours access to the new Municipal Court location?
Outside of regular court hours, the clerk’s office will have a vestibule window at the entrance. People will be able to do everything there after hours at the clerk’s office, such as posting bonds and paying fees, Walsh said.
Officers who need to access the clerk’s office after business hours will be ushered into a special entrance that will be designated for law enforcement only, Walsh said.
Public access to court offices will be prohibited outside court hours.
Where will the offices be in the new court building?
The first floor features high-traffic areas, including the clerk’s office and the indictment, traffic, and small claims courts.
“We don’t like elevators,” Oldham joked while giving a tour of the new space, referring to the problematic elevators in the Stubbs Building.
Prisoners will be brought through a sally port under the building to an area with holding cells and two small conference rooms where defendants can speak to their lawyers. In the Stubbs Building, lawyers had to meet their clients in holding cells, often in front of other defendants.
The second floor houses the Probation Department and the Law Department, including civil attorneys and prosecutors.
The third floor contains chambers for all six Akron judges, two jury rooms, and the court administrator’s office.
Each court has an office where lawyers can hold private meetings. In the Stubbs Building, this happened mostly in hallways and stairwells.
The courts have an office for the bailiff, an office for the judicial advocate and the judge, a small kitchen and the judge’s chambers.
The courtrooms are larger than those in the Stubbs Building and are designed to be handicapped accessible for witnesses and jurors, Oldham said.
“I think the users of the court will appreciate the new courthouse,” said Oldham, who was elected in 2015.
A digital screen outside each courtroom will contain a photo of the judge and a list of that day’s docket.
Both jury rooms contain large conference tables where jurors can sit during their deliberations. The jury area also includes two bathrooms and a kitchenette.
What does the decoration look like?
The new court space is decorated in neutral colors of grey, black and white.
Most of the furniture is new, although Oldham said they were able to salvage what they could from the old building.
The freshly painted walls are largely bare. The court plans to apply for grants for artwork to decorate, Oldham said.
Each courtroom has large televisions, which will be used for Zoom sessions and to display evidence during trials.
Does the building still contain some state offices?
Many state offices will remain on the fourth and fifth floors.
This includes the Adult Parole Board, Work and Family Services, the Office of Workers’ Compensation, and the Civil Rights Commission. Ministry of Development and Veterans Service Commission.
more: Big changes for downtown
Will the public be able to access the building?
Oldham said the open house will be held in January, although a date has not yet been set.
The 104-seat auditorium in the courthouse will be open for use by community groups, with dates now booked for January.
Oldham said the courts will hold a graduation ceremony in the hall for their specialized files. He said court officials also want to offer sessions to educate the community on issues such as landlord/tenant issues and how the courts work.
He added: “We want to make the courts more transparent.”
What will happen to the Stubbs Building and the Police Department?
Shamas Malik, who is expected to become Akron’s new mayor after the Nov. 7 election, has pledged that his administration will develop a plan for the Stubbs Building and police department within his first six months in office.
“The police department deserves a permanent solution,” Malik said in a recent interview.
Malik said it will have to be determined what this plan will include, how it will be paid for, and what the city can afford.
“It will be a great investment,” he added. “We will look at every potential source of funding.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.