You can be excused if you think Union’s former city hall building is now the County Auditorium.

For the second time in less than a month, COVID-19 has prompted Franklin County officials to ask Union officials for use of the City Auditorium.

After talking with Union City Administrator Jonathan Zimmermann Friday, Oct. 9, Franklin County Prosecutor Matthew Becker followed up with an email that afternoon asking for the city to allow the county to rent the auditorium’s gymnasium for jury selection.

“As we discussed, the court is having difficulties in conducting jury trials because of the difficulties of achieving social distancing in our courtrooms during jury selection,” Becker said in his email. “Our courtrooms simply aren’t big enough. The City Auditorium would provide sufficient space, and the presiding judge has asked that I reach out to the city of Union to see if the auditorium could be rented.”

The request was not on the agenda sent out for the Monday, Oct. 12, board of aldermen meeting. Zimmermann said it was added after coming in Friday.

“They are willing to do all the cleanup, setup for use of the auditorium,” Zimmermann told aldermen.

Aldermen unanimously approved the request.

Trials would still be held in the courthouse, with the auditorium only being used from around 9 a.m. until 2 or 3 p.m., Becker said. Some setup and takedown time would be needed before and after jury selection.

“I assure you that I have already secured the means to ensure that the auditorium is at least as clean when we leave as when we arrived,” Becker said.

Becker told Zimmermann the county will only need the auditorium for jury selection a couple more times this year, and it will give at least two weeks’ notice when it is needed.

“If things are not back to normal next year, I don’t envision needing to ask you more than once a month or so, at the most,” he said.

Some are using the pandemic as an excuse to delay court cases, Becker said.

“I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting the courts moving again,” he said. “Certain litigants are not above using this crisis to drag their cases out indefinitely; others are adamant that they be tried immediately, but only because they think it can’t be done.”

County commissioners and the board of aldermen recently approved another agreement to allow up to 10 Franklin County Health Department contact tracers to work out of the top floor of the auditorium building. That floor was vacated after most city staff moved to the new city hall in July.

The county is paying Union $500 a month for the contact tracers space, with the cost of electricity, heating, cooling and internet access included in the rent. The county will provide its own phone and housekeeping services.

Union’s Parks and Recreation department remains on the main floor of the auditorium.