Consultants say Milwaukee County needs new criminal courthouse

10-story facility would cost $184 million


A team of consultants hired by Milwaukee County to study the facility needs for the county’s justice system say those facilities are outdated and the county should build a new $184 million criminal courthouse to replace the Safety Building, located near the historic Milwaukee County Courthouse building in downtown Milwaukee.

“The current facility design cannot meet the safety, security and operational requirements of the criminal court system and action must be taken,” Jeremy Theis, facilities management division director for the county, said in a memo to County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb.

Milwaukee County Courthouse
The Milwaukee County Courthouse, which consultants say should only be used for civil, probate and family courts, and county offices. A new criminal courthouse should be built to replace the nearby Safety Building, the consultants say.

Last year, the county hired HGA Architects and Engineers; Columbia, S.C.-based Justice Planning Associations Inc. and Waukesha-based IBC Engineering Services Inc. to review the county’s courthouse facilities. The consultants recently submitted their final report to county officials.

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The main historic Milwaukee County Courthouse, built in 1932, should remain in use as a courthouse, but only for civil, probate and family courts, the consultants said in their report. Other county government functions such as the County Board chambers, County Executive’s Office, Register of Deeds and Treasurer’s Office could also remain in the building, the consultants say.

“The key to solving the issues with the historic courthouse is to reduce the number of courtrooms in the building, and to eliminate the prisoner movement now occurring in public hallways,” the report states. “Reducing the number of courts and, and in particular, removing the criminal courts, would significantly improve the utility and safety of the historic courthouse.”

Criminal courts should be moved to a new courthouse building, the consultants say.

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The Safety Building, located at 821 W. State St., near the main Milwaukee County Courthouse and on the north side of MacArthur Square, should be demolished, the consultants say. It was built in 1929, but is not listed on the National Historic Register. It would cost $125 million to $150 million to renovate the building to bring it up to modern operating standards and codes, the consultants’ report states.

“It was originally designed as a mixed-use building and has become increasingly obsolete over time,” the consultants’ report states. “This building should be demolished to make way for a better operational solution…in addition to functional and security issues, the Safety Building suffers from a host of physical problems…property maintenance of the facility has been deferred for an extended period of time, and will now be very expensive to achieve.”

The consultants recommend the county build a new 360,000-square-foot, 10-story criminal courthouse with 26 courtrooms, at a cost of about $184 million. They recommend that it be built on the current site of the Safety Building.

Another option is a parking lot site southwest of North 6th and State streets.

“A new criminal courthouse solves a host of problems for the judicial system in general, and for the historic courthouse and the Safety Building in particular,” the consultants’ report states.

The Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center, located at 10201 W. Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa, should continue to be used as a juvenile court and juvenile detention center facility, the consultants’ report states.

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