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Sparks’ Judge Higgins: ‘almost unreal’
by Garrett Valenzuela
Sep 26, 2012 | 3194 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SPARKS — When tensions flare between two neighbors and one excessively loud barking dog, resulting in legal action in the courtroom, the last thing any courthouse wants is the plaintiff and defendant sitting a foot away from each other in the waiting area.

Sparks Justice Court is on pace to solve that problem by the end of this year as construction continues on its new 28,000-square-foot facility that will move the court from its current location on Greenbrae Drive to a new building on Prater Way. The new facility will allow Sparks Justice Court an additional 16,000 square feet to update security issues, staff and public areas and add more courtrooms, according to Washoe County architect and project manager Dave Solaro.

“We are going to create three courtrooms and space for a hearing room, upgrade security facilities and allow for more space to make it nicer for the public, judges and inmates,” Solaro said. “Bailiffs' sight lines will be clear to see all locations where the the public is and they will have improved access control. We will have a separation path to keep inmates separate from judges, staff and the public and we have created proper holding cells for inmates who are awaiting trial.”

Solaro said overall working conditions for justice court employees will be improved due to the expansion of the facility, removing clutter and allowing for more efficient work. He said the county plans to have the facility finished with construction in December and would like the justice court to make its move to the facility in the first or second week of January.

Sparks Justice of the Peace Kevin Higgins has been a major proponent of the county’s project since plans to build an entirely new facility on Pyramid Way arose. Now that the court will be taking over an old building to save money, Higgins said the project is running very smoothly.

“At one point we were in the process of building on a new facility Pyramid (Way) and Disc (Drive). We were doing the standard procedures and we were a year and half in and hadn’t finished the preliminary plans,” Higgins said. “This (project) we’ve gone from the possibility of it happening in the spring to beginning construction in June. We are going to do it less than a year. It’s almost unreal, it’s hard to believe it is actually going to happen.”

As a judge, Higgins said the improvements could not come soon enough for the Sparks Justice Court. After being in a “temporary facility” for about 20 years, Higgins said restoring the court to a properly updated state will do more than simply provide more space.

“In a modern courthouse you keep inmates away from everybody. Safety and security and enough space to operate in is something we don’t have here,” he said. “One thing we have noticed from back when we were in the old building was how people’s attitudes change depending on the building they come into. You think you’re in a courthouse, you act like it. People don’t always have respect for the court, and they are not always here for something happy, but if they come in and it looks respectable then things are going to turn out better. And that has been very true of this facility and how the attitude is affected.”

The project is estimated to cost $2.9 million and Higgins appeared before the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday for the approval of an additional $400,000 of funding. He said due to the speed of the project, and its prior planning stages, the project committee will likely be in front of the board again before the December completion date. Still, Higgins feels confident that public money was well spent.

“We’ve been very responsible with public money on the project. It is going to be nice, but we’re not talking about as much as old courthouses with granite or marble all inside them,” he said. “It will be nice and efficient and we have spent the money well.”

Solaro said much of the project’s quick turnaround is due to the collaboration among the City of Sparks, Washoe County, construction contractors and the landlord of the Prater Way facility.

“The teamwork going into the construction has been outstanding and everyone was working to do something good for the community and it is rewarding to see that occur,” he said. “It is always good when we can do something to benefit the safe environment for our own employees and for the public. We are trying to take care of it and this will be a shining project for Washoe County inside the city of Sparks.”
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