Newton County officials and employees will soon get some breathing room.

Marilyn Ruestman, presiding commissioner, signed the papers on Tuesday afternoon to finalize the county’s acquisition of the Smith Insurance and Financial Services building located across the street from the courthouse at 123 E. Main St. on the downtown square.

The price for the 16,800-square-feet building is $435,000, sold to the county by Comerica Bank. Kevin VanStory, real estate broker, said the building was constructed in 1906, originally as Briggs Hardware.

“The impetus is that we have not an inch of space left in the courthouse,” Ruestman said. “We have people working as an office inside vaults, and we’re just crowded. We don’t have enough funds to build a new building.”

Ruestman said that was a consideration, “But we just don’t have that kind of funding, and I’m not interested in going to the people with a tax to build that building.”

She said commissioners became interested when the Smith building became available, and as the price decreased over time it made it more favorable for the county.

“Everyone knows I’m Miss Stingy,” said Ruestman, “so they knew I wasn’t going to look at anything that would be wasteful or just throwing money away.”

She said engineers have inspected and have deemed the building as sound.

Ruestman said a consulting firm has been hired to study how best to use the facility.
“We’ve not determined if we will go with a judicial building or whether we will go with government offices and make it a government building,” she said.

Ruestman expects the team to arrive next week, and once they have determined how it will be configured bids for construction will be let.

She said county employees, officeholders and judges are anxious to learn how the building will lay out for county uses.

“If we do the judicial building, then we would move the courtrooms and affiliates over there,” she said. “If not, we’ll leave the courtrooms all in the courthouse and move most other officeholders and staff over to the new building. Our intent is that one way or the other that the courts are going to have more space, as well as all the other office holders.”

Ruestman called Tuesday an exciting day. She said Newton County government operates on a shoestring, “And over the years these people have just moved into every little corner.”