City officials have long been interested in relocating the court from the second floor of City Hall, where it is in session three days a week. The city’s population and the court’s caseload has grown tremendously in recent decades, leading to crowded quarters and inmates in restraints sometimes being led through the lobby during city business hours, Mayor Jim Brainard said.
“It’s not a good setup,” he said.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. In an era of physical distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, overcrowding in City Hall — in the court and elsewhere — became a matter of public safety rather than an inconvenience. So, the city court is expected to soon relocate into its new location, although city officials have not announced a move date.
“Given the restrictions and the push for physical distance, the current courtroom setup is not good for those coming to court, nor is it good for visitors and employees working at City Hall,” City of Carmel spokesman Dan McFeely said.
City officials declined to identify the cost to lease courtroom space or identify where the court will move because the lease is not yet signed. The city is paying Carmel-based Studio M Architects $15,000 to provide architectural design services for the relocation.
Moving the court will free up space at City Hall, giving employees more space to practice physical distancing and alleviate overcrowding in certain departments.
Eventually, the city plans to move the court into an expansion of the Carmel Police Dept. headquarters. Brainard said in 2016 that the city was interested in purchasing the Huntington Bank building next door, but the bank is still in operation there. City officials declined to comment on the status of those plans.
Both the temporary and future city court at CPD headquarters will have a dedicated security screening area and larger public space that will allow for physical distancing.
City court halted in-person hearings during the peak of the pandemic but has resumed them with safety protocols in place. McFeely said the court is expecting a “significant uptick” in in-person hearings in 2021, partially to catch up on a backlog of cases delayed during the pandemic.