Kent -- The new Kent branch of the Portage County Municipal Court opened to ribbons, tours and news that the building came in about $2 million under its $10.4 million budget.

The announcement by municipal court administrative Judge Kevin Poland was greeted by applause from the crowd of about 100 people who attended the May 28 official open house.

JoAnn Townend, director of internal services for the county, credited a thorough planning process by Richard L. Bowen & Associates Inc., which designed the building, and the Ruhlin Co., which managed the construction.

That resulted in very few change orders, "probably the lowest number I've seen on any project I've been involved in," Townend said.

The building at 303 East Main St. has been open for business for several weeks but officials held off on a grand opening for warmer weather.

Poland also noted the building is being paid for through a $20 per case court fee placed on all cases several years ago. No money from the county general fund was used for construction.

Judge Barbara Oswick, the first to occupy the bench in the building, said she was pleased with the project. "It came out well. It was a lot of work," she said.

THE FORMER courthouse, a 1936 former U.S. Post Office, has been turned over to the city of Kent as part of a land swap to ensure the courthouse remained in the downtown area.

Court reporter Peggy Collins said new security features, such as cameras and public and staff areas separated by locked doors, "make it feel a very safe place to work."

Visitors at the open house toured the entire building, including areas normally closed to the public.

"It's been the goal of the design team from the start to balance the functionality and security required by the courts with the receptive and engaging feeling that the city deserves," said architect Allan Renzi of Richard L. Bowen & Associates.

Bailiff Joe Beckwith, assignment commissioner Tammy Scott and judicial assistant Amanda Casto said the building has an effect on people who come to court.

"There's a different attitude of people coming in compared to the South Water location," Scott said. "People are so much more respectful now," Beckwith added.

Portage County Commissioner Kathleen Chandler said the new courthouse "provides the dignity and formality of the court so vital for the functioning of our system of justice. And, at the same time, it provides a secure environment for the safety of the court and of the public."


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