One noisy court problem - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

By Fanna Haile-Selassie

One noisy court problem

WINONA, MN (FOX 47) -- $11.6 million and 8 years later, the Winona County Courthouse is having some privacy problems. The courthouse was renovated after water pipes burst and flooded the building. Officials say soundproofing requirements were not followed.

Judges and attorneys who work in the Winona courthouse say the soundproof problems occur in almost every part of the building, courtrooms, jury deliberations rooms, and private chambers. It's been a problem since they've moved back after the renovation, but now they've hit the breaking point.

Imagine that you can hear everything that people are saying in the room next to you, or you can hear a television monitor. Or worse, others can easily eavesdrop on your private conversations. That's what judges, attorneys, and officials who work in the Winona Courthouse are dealing with on a daily basis.

"It's very frustrating. It makes it very difficult for the judge or any of the players in the courtroom to concentrate on what's going on," says Winona court administrator Sally Cumiskey.

Cumiskey says courtroom-two has it the worst. Another courtroom sits directly underneath, its ceiling speakers disrupting court proceedings in the room above.

"That witness can hear sounds coming through to the point that it's so distracting that they can't concentrate on the questions that they're being asked," continues Cumiskey.

There's also sound problems with the monitors used in courtrooms.

"When you use this screen for video depositions, or for inner, tele-video conferencing, you can actually hear it in the other courtroom and it becomes very distracting."

So who's to blame? According to the National Center for State Courts, the sound transmission class should be no less than 50. Several tests of different rooms in the courthouse show S-T-C's of 42 to 47.

Cumiskey says the architect of the renovation, the BKV Group and the construction company CAM have pointed fingers at each other.

"So who's fault is it?"

"I don't know. That's what they're trying to figure out, if it's a design flaw or if it's a construction flaw," answers Cumiskey.

Cumiskey says the county administrator and the county attorney are working with both the construction company and the architect to come up with a solution. And it's still unclear who'll end up paying for this costly mistake, the builders or you the taxpayer. Two courtrooms, at issue, will be insulated in trial runs to see if that helps with the noise.

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