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Courthouse plans near final

 Top county and judicial officials held a more than two hour meeting with architect Bruce Jennings Friday to go over plans for the massive courthouse project slated to begin within the next few weeks.

The exact start date for demolition of a portion of the downtown courthouse has not been set, but comments at the Friday meeting indicated plans are nearing completion.

Officials present, including Commissioner Robert Jones, Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver and Sheriff Donnie Craig, agreed to hold one more meeting between Christmas and New Year’s Day with all judicial department heads who will be housed in the new building. There was discussion that a number of other county/judicial officials might be on vacation at that time, but when all present said they could attend, Project Manager Thurman Slone was asked to arrange the meeting.

Architect Jennings said he requested that meeting so everyone involved could be in the same room to go through every detail presented on blueprints.


“This is the last major building I will be involved in, and I would like nothing more than for us to be right on the budget and not go through a lot of change orders, and the way we do this is for the architect and the owner/representatives to go through the plans [until we are all satisfied],” Jennings said.

Commissioner Jones said he is anxious to get that “super-detailed review” completed as soon as possible. Jones expressed some urgency: “I have got to get this laid to rest. I have got to get this out for bid.”

Discussion indicated that if that final meeting concludes with a workable set of plans, bid packets for the $11 million to $14 million project could be given out in January.

The plans as presented at the Friday meeting showed a new courthouse emerging around the north side and to the rear of the marble portion of the existing courthouse.

The entrance would be in a long atrium running alongside the Court Street (Pickens Progress building) side of the existing courthouse. The back portion of the current courthouse will be demolished and replaced with a modern building.

Exterior of the new building as presented Friday will be a mixture of brick, marble and glass. Glass was shown as the exterior for the top floor.

Jennings said he felt obligated to use marble when building a courthouse in Pickens County and indicated he wanted to see marble used on the corners of the building.

However, the amount of our heritage stone used may be determined by the budget, as Commissioner Jones said, “It would be hard to sell it to the public [a more extensive marble facade]. We just have x amount of dollars, and we are not going over it.”

The plans presented Friday were clearly going to go through at least one more revision before the holiday meeting, as Superior Court Judge Weaver began the meeting by strenuously objecting to the proximity of the public defender space with space allocated to the victim’s assistance area.

“You can’t have the victims with the defendants who are the ones that made them the victims,” Weaver said. “I feel strongly about this.” Ultimately the architect was instructed to re-allocate some offices in another area for the victim’s service area.

Other points of discussion centered on the numerous security measures required in a courthouse and how people would move through the building and which doors would be secured.

Jennings said he considers this design an extremely efficient building. He said it had an 80 percent efficiency rating, meaning that 80 percent of the interior space is usable and not just for circulation (people traffic). He said 80 percent is much higher than most courthouses and is in a range usually found only in office buildings.

Further, he said this design efficiency was achieved while building around the existing marble portion of the old courthouse. “This is tough when you are building off an existing building,” he said.

Other points of discussion:

• Interior wood used in courtrooms and other decorative spaces would be birch, which can be stained to whatever color judges want. This is an inexpensive route to get an attractive judicial appearance.

• The front entrance will have a glass walled security area.

•Cornerstones from the existing buildings will be removed and displayed inside the new building.

• The scales of justice display in the main courtroom of the current courthouse may not be movable, as it has been affixed with epoxy to the wall, but if it is able to be taken down, it will be displayed in the new area.

• High durability paint and carpet will be used throughout all of the office space. “Nothing fancy,” Jennings said.

• The new building will have three courtrooms that can be used at one time. However, the courts lack personnel to operate them all at once. Jones said deciding what to do about the additional manpower need would be up to the forthcoming three member commission that will take office in January 2013.

• There is a small amount of asbestos in the current courthouse. Rather than remove it, technicians will encapsulate it to prevent exposure.

• Jennings said the addition of Thurman Slone to the county staff had made his job of coordinating with the county much easier. “We are very fortunate, he came in at the right time,” Jennings said.

Judge and Sherriff say they are pleased

With temporary annex

Judge Brenda Weaver noted that she believed the judicial staff is pleased with the temporary courthouse that has been set up in the old federal building on West Church Street.

The judge and Sheriff Donnie Craig both said they did not realize how decrepit the old courthouse was until they started moving out.

Discussion indicated there was an amazing amount of mold and mildew discovered behind bookcases and other furniture that stood against walls.

“The [temporary] offices at the new annex are nicer than any we’ve ever had,” Judge Weaver said.

Weaver said the only objection is the “cold natured” DA’s office and that the courtroom staff can’t seem to find a suitable compromise concerning the thermostat temperature.

Project Manager Thurman Slone said they would see if they could fix this problem.

Sheriff Craig noted that even with some temperature issues, “we are still a step up” now from the previous facility.

County judicial offices will continue to use the temporary building for at least a year while construction of the new courthouse is underway.