Archived Story

It’s official: Benton Twp. to be home of county campus

Published 9:01pm Thursday, August 12, 2010


Niles Daily Star

ST. JOSEPH — The Berrien County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of 48 acres of land at 2393 East Napier Ave. in Benton Township to be the future location of a county campus at Thursday’s board meeting.

The resolution was approved by a 9-2 vote with John Klimek, representing the city of Niles, and Don Ryman, representing the Buchanan-Galien area, voting against the measure. Two commissioners were absent for the vote, including John LaMore, who represents Niles Township.

The issue has been the subject of some debate among commissioners and county residents, some arguing that a county campus site should be more centrally located.

The parcel of land, which will be purchased by the county for $759,000, is across from Lake Michigan College and could become the home of the animal control facility, county jail, health department and juvenile center.

County Administrator Bill Wolf made it clear the passage of the proposal does not mean a move of the county seat.

Don Ryman, who adamantly has opposed the purchase of the land in Benton Township and favors a county campus location on Shawnee Road in Berrien Springs, made one last attempt to sway the other commissioners on Wednesday.

“The Napier property is the wrong place,” Ryman said. “The property is remote from Buchanan and Niles or as we say in the U.S. Naval Service, ‘Way the hell and gone from here.’ It’s not fair to south county residents.”

He also said having two courthouses would be a “duplication of costs” and a “bad use of taxpayers money.”

Bryan Bixby, District 8 commissioner, said he would have supported a campus on Shawnee but pointed out his constituents in that area have voted down water and sewer projects twice.

“I’m sad to say it, but my constituents don’t want growth,” he said.

Andrew Vavra, the 10th District commissioner, reminded Ryman that the board has been considering this issue for “quite some time.”

“All areas of the county were considered,” Vavra said. “Water access was important and that limits location.”

Shawnee Road doesn’t have access to water and sewer lines.

“I like the idea of a campus,” Vavra said. “A lot of counties have gone to that. There are a lot of efficiencies with that.”

Vavra also said the issue is not just geographical location but accessibility, arguing that southwest county residents could take Interstate 94 and get there quickly and without stop signs and lights.

District 2 Commissioner Jon Hinkelman acknowledged the purchase is a big investment.

“It’s tough right now, but future generations will be thankful,” he said. “It’s great forward thinking.”

The decision is a disappointment but not a shock to south county municipalities.

“No surprise,” Niles City Administrator Terry Eull said in an interview after hearing the news of the decision. “They never consulted the municipalities in the south.”

Earlier this week the Niles City Council voted 7-0 not to support the Benton Township location.

Niles Township Supervisor Jim Kidwell said the township board feels the same way.

“It’s not fair to the south county people to have that campus so far away,” he said. “Everything seems to wind up in the north part of the county. It’s an inconvenience and expense for south county residents.”

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