By Mary Spicer
After expressing disappointment in September at being left out of Crawford County’s official planning process for a project that could have a significant impact on the city, members of Meadville’s Planning and Zoning Commission received an update on tentative plans to transform part of the former Talon Inc. Plant No. 5 on upper Arch Street into Crawford County Justice Center during their recent October meeting.
While the commission’s initial concern centered around a lack of access to support facilities including restaurants and attorneys’ offices for those working and doing business at the new justice center, assurances from Crawford County Planning Director Alan Knapp that only 147 people would actually be working at the site — plus a maximum of 100 jurors on occasional peak days — seemed to allay their fears.
Architect Richard Speicher of the Erie office of Weber Murphy Fox directed members of the city commission through the $25.3 million project. Development is being guided by recommendations from a 17-member citizens advisory committee formed in August 2011 and comprised of members from government, economic development, business, community organizations and the public at large.
The structure itself is now owned by Crawford County and some demolition already has taken place. However, plans are still fluid. No decision on the fate of the overall project has been made, and no financing has been put into place by Crawford County Commissioners.
Speicher (pronounced spike-er) noted that a 7,000-square-foot structure on the Arch Street side of the property he described as housing the former Meadville Seminary before becoming the corporate headquarters of the hookless fastener manufacturer (Talon “A” on the site plan) is completely separated, including utilities, from the portion of the massive structure that will serve as the justice center (Talon “C”). “At some point, the commissioners would like to be able to sell the parcel,” Speicher explained, noting that his team is making sure that both buildings stand on their own.
“The county does not want to own Building “A,” Knapp agreed.
A portion of the former Plant 5 running between Arch and Pine streets (Talon “C”) has already been demolished; plans call for the section (Talon “B”) now separating the former seminary from the future justice center to also come down. “Building B is partly finished but is not the kind of space suitable for county offices,” Speicher said, noting that all building systems have reached the end of their usable life.
Entry to the justice center will be from the Pine Street side of the property.
In addition to offices of the public defender, sheriff, domestic relations, adult and juvenile probation, prothonotary, district attorney, clerk of courts, court administration, judges’ chambers and three 50-seat courtrooms, the building will also house Crawford County Cooperative Extension and a large portion of the basement will be devoted to storing archive files. “The county has a major need for paper storage,” Speicher said.
According to Knapp, the food bank operated by Center for Family Services that is one of the last remaining tenants of the complex must be relocated to a different site.
Speicher explained that with the schematic design almost complete, the project could be ready to bid in February 2013 from an architectural perspective. Once demolition starts, it will take 18 months to complete the justice center, which will account for approximately $17 million to $18 million of the total cost of the project, he said.
As soon as offices have been relocated to the Justice Center, work can begin at the current Crawford County Courthouse, which will become the county’s administration center.