Work began on grading the new parking lot area for the courthouse approximately two months ago. Ultimate plans are for a lighted walkway to lead from the parking area near the Piggly Wiggly up Court Street to the courthouse.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, county officials expect early stages of construction on the Pickens County Courthouse renovation to begin in spring 2012.
This announcement comes more than three years after the SPLOST passed in February 2008, when voters approved $17 million for courthouse renovations and another $2.7 million for parking and debt service for the courthouse.
According to Pickens County Courthouse Project Manager Thurman Slone, all department heads with the Pickens judicial system have signed off on tentative courthouse plans, or schematics, which were drafted by Bruce Jennings of JKH Architects.
“This is where we lay out the space for the rooms and offices to make certain everyone has adequate space for operations,” Slone said.
Pickens County Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver, District Attorney Joe Hendricks, Chief Magistrate Judge Allen Wigington and Probate Judge Rodney Gibson have all signed off on these tentative plans, Slone said.
Sheriff Donnie Craig said he has met with Slone and Jennings regarding the schematics but that he has not yet signed off. Craig said he requested a copy of drawn plans for his review and that he plans to meet with Slone and Jennings in the next week.
“I requested a copy to bring back for review for security measures [at the courthouse],” Craig said. “There are a few security issues I want to look at before I sign.”
Pickens County Commissioner Robert Jones said he is not legally required to gain approval from department heads on the schematics, but that, “We’ve worked hard for years to get this in place, and I don’t want to get this thing done and have it be something that no one wants to use,” he explained. “I want everyone to be on board with this from the beginning.”
Now that schematics have been approved by judicial department heads, the county will start finalizing the design this week, Slone said. He said he expects final construction drawings to be completely hammered out by November of this year.
“But whenever you go into final planning there are always modifications that have to be made,” he said. “You have to keep that in mind.”
Slone expects the cost of renovation and construction on the courthouse to fall between $11 million and $14 million.
As plans look now, the 13,000 sq. ft. portion of the courthouse that runs parallel to Main Street in downtown Jasper will be renovated. The back wing of the courthouse that runs parallel to Depot Street will be torn down. And a new 55,000 sq. ft. portion will be built on to original marble-faced structure that is saved.
This new courthouse section will extend eastward to about the present west wall of the Pickens County Courthouse Annex, which will eventually be torn down to make room for parking.
Currently, the 4.5-acre tract of land behind the Piggly Wiggly shopping center (a parcel purchased by the county in 2010) is being graded for additional courthouse parking. This area will be temporarily used as a staging area for heavy construction equipment while renovations are underway at the courthouse building.
Ultimate plans call for a lighted walkway that will connect the parking area near Piggly Wiggly to Court Street and the courthouse.
The county is now in negotiations with the Georgia Northeastern Railroad to gain crossing rights over the railroad.
“Talks [with the railroad] are going well,” Slone said. “We’re just getting into the final details right now.”