Sarasota County commissioners decided to take the long view on the expansion of the South County Courthouse, more commonly known as the Robert L. Anderson Administration Center, 4000 South Tamiami Trail.
By a unanimous vote after little discussion Wednesday, they chose a new option to serve current and future growth in the area — a two-story, six-courtroom courthouse.
“We’re very happy that we’re planning for the next 20 or 30 years,” Steve Boone, a member of the South County Bar Association, told commissioners. “The need for full court services is not going away. They will continue to be needed.”
“We want to reiterate our appreciation,” said Circuit Judge Kim Bonner, whose courtroom is in the current Anderson complex. “It allows us to provide court services to everyone.”
For 11 years, the county sought ways to improve the delivery of judicial services in South County, recognizing both the growth in the area and that the current courtroom facilities on the second floor of the building do not meet modern operational standards.
In October 2016, commissioners selected a one-story, four-courtroom courthouse plan from several options developed by staff and court administration and then vetted by attorneys who routinely practice at the Anderson complex.
But over the past several months, after meetings with stakeholders, the South County Bar Association and the Audubon Society, which oversees the nearby Venice Rookery, and more detailed financial analysis, county staff discovered an opportunity to expand the building to two stories with six courtrooms instead of the one-story, four courtroom concept that was originally approved.
Commissioners were quick to sign on to the concept Wednesday.
“What’s being proposed is a better product,” said Commissioner Charles Hines, an attorney and member of the bar association. “It will work well and benefit us for a very long period of time.”
Hines also pointed out that cases, such as felony criminal matters, currently being moved from South County to North County for hearings will return to the new facility and open up space in the Silvertooth Judicial Center in downtown Sarasota.
“Our staff did an absolutely stunning job on this,” newly re-elected Commissioner Alan Maio added.
Brad Gaubatz, the county’s manager of capital projects, told commissioners that the two new courtrooms in the newest option would be on the first floor, initially occupied by the clerk of courts and court administration. When needed in the future, those two rooms would then be refitted as courtrooms.
The new option also has one drawback that Commission Chair Nancy Detert didn’t like — the removal of the pond between the complex and U.S. 41.
While the pond adds an attractive view to the complex, its removal is necessary for parking and access to the current Anderson building. The new courthouse will be built in what’s now the parking lot.
“The growth is down here. The need is down here,” Detert said. “This is not a short-term fix, it’s a long-term proposition. I hate to lose the pond, and I hope you can do something to keep it attractive.”
While county staff have identified impact fees as the source for the additional costs of the new option, they will now proceed to prepare the necessary amendments for the project which commissioners will consider at a future date.