Labor backs county bond issue for new courts buildings

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Proposition S would address safety, security concerns, create construction jobs without raising taxes

St. Louis County Family Court Center

Clayton – The St. Louis Labor Council and the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council have thrown their support behind a $100 million no tax increase bond issue in St. Louis County to build a new Family Court Center and upgrade and renovate the county’s Civil Court building.

“This is an important issue for our judicial system and we hope union families will vote for it,” said Bob Soutier, president of the St. Louis Labor Council. “It will allow our county to have safer, more efficient buildings and create hundreds of union jobs in our area.”
The bond issue, which will appear on the April 3 ballot as Proposition S, would pay to replace the outdated, Family Court Center on South Brentwood Boulevard and renovate the county’s Civil Court building on Carondelet Avenue to address fire safety, security and space concerns, outdated and overloaded electrical systems, unreliable heating and cooling systems, employee exposures to asbestos and a variety of other issues that officials say need to be addressed.
The measure will not require a tax increase because the county is preparing to retire its bond indetedness on the Buzz Westfall Justice Center, which was completed in 1998, giving the county the capacity to issue new bonds without raising taxes.

“All trade union members in St. Louis County have a tremendous opportunity to improve their economic lives and those of other tradesmen by pulling together and working for Proposition S,” said Jeff Aboussie, executive secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council. “The ripple effect of a project of this size will impact union members even if they are not in the building trades. It will require vehicles made by UAW workers, Machinists, service workers, county and municipal employees and many others.”

THE CASE FOR PASSAGE

One of the more critical issues county officials say need to be addressed is the lack of fire sprinklers in the two 40-year-old buildings.
That’s a huge concern, Clayton Fire Marshal Paul Mercurio said, both in the Family Court Center, where the county’s juvenile detention facility is located and in the heavily trafficked Civil Court building, where a majority of people doing business with the courts are unfamiliar with the building.
“In a high rise where people work in it every day, they’re familiar with the building and where the stairwells are located,” Mercurio said. “The courthouse has people in it for just a week or two, or even day. A sprinkler system will suppress a fire or hold it in place while people find their way to the stairways and start their evacuation. I think an automatic fire sprinkler system is paramount for that building from a life safety issue.”
In addition to safety, Mercurio said a sprinkler system would prevent the destruction of countless records which could be lost in the event of a fire.
“If there was a fire there and it spread and took out half of a floor or even a quarter of a floor, just think of how that would impact our judicial system.”

‘BAND-AID’ FIXES

Tom Lang, a Clayton lawyer and chairman of Citizens for Safe Courts and Kids, the group backing the bond issue, said there are a litany of issues Proposition S would allow officials to address in the two buildings in addition to fire safety. For example:
·     The court buildings have inadequate electric,
heating and air-conditioning systems, escalator failures and failing parking garages.
·     Asbestos issues in the Family Court Center make
even routine repairs complicated and expensive, forcing portions of the building to be shut down when the asbestos is exposed due to leaks or other damage.
·     Due to overcrowding and poor design in the Family
Court center, officials said it’s not uncommon for crime victims and their attackers to have to sit in the same room or across from each other in the hallways while awaiting legal proceedings. Shortage of space means some juveniles have to be counseled in jail cells, officials said.
·     Lack of space has also forced court staff,
advoctates and other services to be located in different buildings.
·     In the Civil Court building, security issues cause
congestion in the courthouse, making inefficient use of time by county employees, attorneys, jurors and citizens trying to access the courts.
·     Despite security measures at the entrance, the
“open” design of the buildings means that judges chambers, staff offices and back hallways are accessible to anyone and unprotected.
·     The building’s antiquated electrical system is
unable to accommodate modern technology like record scanning equipment. Officials have said even the addition of simple laptop computers in a courtroom can cause the system to overload.
Lang said the county is currently spending in excess of $750,00 a year on “band-aid” maintenance at the two buildings. That number will likely increase as the buildings continue to age, he said.
To make matters worse, in 2012, the county will spend an additional $300,000 to make repairs to the deteriorating concrete in the Civic Court building’s parking garage.

GET OUT THE VOTE

Circuit Judge Douglas Beach has been visiting local local labor, civic and community groups to lay out the case for the bond issue.
Beach visited the Building and Construction Trades Council recently to discuss the importance of getting out the vote on the measure.
The proposition requires a four-sevenths majority, or 57.14 percent for passage.

“Getting labor behind this was essential,” Beach said. “As important as their getting behind it is going to be getting the union membership to get behind it and get out and vote. We need their support if this is going to pass.”
Lang echoed Beach’s sentiments.
Even with the strong case for passage of the no tax increase bond issue, he said, the success of the measure will depend largely on how many people turn out at the polls.
“The most important thing we need is for people to actually get out and cast their vote and to get everyone they know to do likewise,” Lang said.

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