Ground is broken on new Manti courthouse to address security issues with 1935 building

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the groundbreaking for the Manti courthouse on Monday.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the groundbreaking for the Manti courthouse on Monday. (Emily Ashcraft,

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MANTI — In rural communities, a courthouse is very important, but Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said people who live in Salt Lake City don't realize that — to them, a courthouse is where bad people end up.

But a courthouse is also where the community comes together, and where the community and the county do business, he said.

When settlers came to Sanpete Valley, Cox said a courthouse was one of the first buildings they built. It is still that important to the county's residents today, he said; it isn't just a place for justice but is "so much more than that."

Ground was broken Monday for a new courthouse in Sanpete County, on Main Street between 100 North and Union Street in Manti. The new building is designed to fix the security issues of the current building, which was built in 1935.

Sixth Judicial District Court judges spend about 25% of their time in the car traveling to different courthouses in the largest judicial district in the state, which stretches from Sanpete County all the way to the Utah-Arizona border, the court's website says.

Cox said when he was a county commissioner in Sanpete County, they were aware that the courthouse was a safety hazard, and it was impossible for the building to accommodate the court's needs. They talked with the court system about ways to make the building work.

"This has been a long time coming, it's far past due, and I'm so excited to be able to be here with you today on this very special occasion," he said.

It was impossible to make the current building work for the growing county because it was not designed to do that, Cox said. A dam on the mountain and this courthouse were two projects he wanted to build when he became governor — but he needed to work with the state Legislature for funding.

"They were able to get it done, and I'm so proud of them. They deserve all the accolades for their great work," he said.

Cox, a Sanpete County native, said both his mom and his dad have ancestors who settled Manti. He said the county is his home.

He is sometimes embarrassed to mention that both his mother and father descend from two brothers who helped settle Manti.

"I am my own fifth cousin," he said. "That happens in Sanpete a lot. We usually don't talk about it, but it's fine, it's fine."

Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant said he met with the judges in the 6th District Court just before the groundbreaking and said they were talented and committed. He said getting the courthouse to this point was not without political cost, thanked legislators and the governor for helping make the courthouse a reality, and said the new courthouse is "extremely important."

"Not only will it be much safer, but our judges will be able to serve as citizens of this community. This courthouse will be a sanctuary," he said.

Durrant said in courthouses, principles like honesty, integrity, humility, generosity and decency prevail — making the building a sanctuary from the world.

"Within the walls of this courthouse, truth will not be a relativity. Insults will not be tolerated. Accusations will not be made at whim. … It will be a disciplined process," he said.

He said people come to courts with their most precious and painful problems, and people can expect fair judges.

"The rule of law will reign in this courthouse; and under the rule of law, no person is above the law and no one is beneath its protections," he said.

Security needs

Sen. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, said getting the courthouse approved was "a little bit of a Wild West ride for a few sessions," but it is something that is needed for the health and safety of the county's citizens.

"Where you're sitting and standing will be a beautiful courtyard, and right behind where I'm standing will be a great addition to the county seat … where justice and good government can continue to go forward," Owens said.

He said the old courthouse has been the No. 1 security problem in the state, and maybe the worst in the nation, and thanked people who helped champion the idea of the replacement.

The Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management ranked the Manti Courthouse as the highest replacement need for public safety in the state, according to a presentation created for the 2022 Utah Legislature. Here are a few of the security concerns:

  • The screening corridor is placed in a narrow hallway, which gives little space for deputies to react if there is a problem.
  • Unlike most courts, where there is a secure entrance for inmates coming to court, inmates are led to an outdoor public parking lot in an area that deputies are required to constantly check for dangerous items.
  • Judges and the public also park outdoors, and the shortest route to the courthouse requires them to walk right past the place where inmates are brought to the courthouse.
  • Inmates are also lined in the same hallways judges use to walk between their chambers and courtrooms because there are no in-custody holding cells.

Plans for the new courthouse address each of these issues, giving judges a private underground parking area and adding holding cells and an enclosed sally port.

Manti Mayor Chuck Bigelow said he worked in law enforcement for 30 years and learned that having secure, safe facilities is important for judges, attorneys, offenders and the public. He expressed appreciation for attorneys and judges who brought concerns about safety to him and state leaders who helped get the project past roadblocks.

Sanpete County Commissioner Scott Collard said the courts represent the final step in the law enforcement process. He said the county's current courthouse was not designed to meet the current needs of their changing communities.

He said the county is growing at a rate of 40%, and the number of cases in the courts has increased as well, at between 25% and 40%.

"Those numbers are kind of astounding, really, when you think about how small we are. Things are growing, things are progressing. We need to be part of that progression, and this is a big part of that," Collard said.


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Emily Ashcraft joined as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.


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