LAPORTE — Final approval has been given to renovating and doubling the size of the historic Michigan City courthouse.
The decision to move forward was made this week by the LaPorte County Council, which also chose not to proceed yet with a similar proposal for the even older courthouse in LaPorte’s downtown.
How to finance the work in Michigan City, estimated at $21 million, will be decided later.
Councilman Mark Yagelski believes the work can be paid for in half the time as a traditional 20-year bond issue because the more than $20 million renovation of the LaPorte County Complex and jail expansion completed in 2004 was paid off in just 10 years.
Yagelski said he prefers retiring the debt from the work in Michigan City before going ahead with the project in LaPorte to avoid the potential of overextending county government.
"I think it has to be a two-step type program," Yagelski said.
Plans calls for the 1892 courthouse and county complex in LaPorte about 150 feet apart from each other to be connected in a future project. Some renovation of the LaPorte courthouse would also occur.
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The work at the 1909 courthouse in Michigan City is considered more urgent because of an electrical system viewed as a fire hazard, along with major handicapped accessibility and space constraints.
County offices on nearby Eighth Street will be moved into the expanded Michigan City courthouse once the construction is completed, officials said. Construction is expected to start in 2019 and be completed less than 18 months later.
County Councilman Terry Garner proposed having cost figures obtained for building a new facility housing all county offices somewhere between Michigan City and LaPorte before moving forward with any construction.
Garner said a new facility would eliminate the cost of maintaining the aging courthouses and could house the county jail, which likely will need extensive work in a decade or less.
"We could be talking some cost savings. All of these old buildings continue to cost us," Garner said.
County Council President Randy Novak said no decision has been made on when the courthouse improvements in LaPorte might take place.