Ju­di­cial Cen­ter ex­pan­sion plans ex­ceeds SPLOST bud­get

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DANIELLE EVER­SON deverson@cov­news.com

The New­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers lis­tened to ex­pan­sion plans for the Ju­di­cial Cen­ter at their meet­ing Tues­day and heard at the meet­ing that the ex­pan­sion would go over the SPLOST bud­get.

Row­land David­son of Ly­man David­son and Doo­ley, Inc — the ar­chi­tect for the ex­pan­sion — pre­sented the board with con­struc­tion plans for the project as well as its bud­get, which to­tals $9,898,268. SPLOST fund­ing for the project is $7 mil­lion.

Ac­cord­ing to the project bud­get, an es­ti­mated $6.9 mil­lion is for the con­struc­tion of the ex­pan­sion, but with au­dio/vis­ual de­sign and equip­ment, se­cu­rity sys­tems, fur­ni­ture and fix­tures, sev­eral other ad­di­tions in­cluded in the ex­pan­sion and a con­tin­gency

fee of $900,000, the bud­get for the ex­pan­sion amounts to the $9.9 mil­lion. Where ad­di­tional fund­ing would come from for the ex­pan­sion was not dis­cussed. There was no vote on the pre­sented plans as it was for in­for­ma­tional pur­poses only.

David­son said Phase 1 of the con­struc­tion will be funded by the 2011 SPLOST. He pre­sented the board with the sub-base­ment floor plan, which in­cluded sep­a­rate hold­ing cells for adult and ju­ve­nile in­mates and of­fice ar­eas for the bailiffs. Both the adult and ju­ve­nile hold­ing ar­eas will have sep­a­rate en­trances into the build­ing.

“We’re putting them in a sub-base­ment area to main­tain se­cu­rity, and then the only time they will be brought from this hold­ing area up to the court­rooms is dur­ing their court dates,” David­son said. “We have to cre­ate a se­cure cir­cu­la­tion through­out the build­ing to main­tain that se­cu­rity.”

On the first floor of the ju­di­cial cen­ter, David­son said there will be a main en­trance with two se­cu­rity check-in lines to speed up the process of en­ter­ing the fa­cil­ity.

“The cur­rent ju­di­cial cen­ter had orig­i­nally been de­signed with two sep­a­rate en­trances. One of those en­trances has been closed over the years due to se­cu­rity. So part of the con­fu­sion was which doors do you ac­tu­ally go in to en­ter the build­ing,” David­son said.

Also on the first floor there will be a new ju­ve­nile court­room that will be ex­panded from the cur­rent ju­ve­nile court and the cur­rent ju­ve­nile court will be re-as­signed to the mag­is­trate court. David­son added that there will be new judge’s cham­bers for the ju­ve­nile court­room, court ar­eas for fam­ily visi­ta­tion and at­tor­ney rooms. He said the cur­rent ju­di­cial park­ing area for the judge’s will re­main in place, but a new judge’s en­trance will be added to the rear of the build­ing.

On the sec­ond floor, there will be a new check-in area for ju­rors, a 250-seat im­pan­el­ing room, and three new judge’s cham­bers for the judges and their staff. The cur­rent im­pan­el­ing room will be turned into a fourth su­pe­rior court,

The third floor of the plan is for fu­ture ex­pan­sion. It will in­clude an ex­panded Clerk of Court’s Of­fice, District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice and a grand jury room.

David­son said the to­tal ex­pan­sion is 35,000 square feet and the new plans for the ex­pan­sion should blend with the cur­rent ar­chi­tec­ture so that it would look as though it was never ex­panded.

County At­tor­ney Tommy Craig said the board agreed not to is­sue rev­enue bonds for SPLOST projects. He sug­gested that the county use a cer­tifi­cate of par­tic­i­pa­tion, which he said is sim­i­lar to a mort­gage, for the fund­ing needed for the project.

“The $7 mil­lion will be bor­rowed from the said bank or the ACCG [As­so­ci­a­tion County Com­mis­sioner’s of Ge­or­gia],” he said. “We would bor­row money from the bank and the in­ter­est rate is rel­a­tively low, and we would fi­nance the con­struc­tion over five years.” He added that the bud­get didn’t in­clude the in­ter­est rates that would be re­quired.

“The rea­son to con­sider this is at this point and time is num­ber one, con­struc­tion costs are prob­a­bly less now than it’s go­ing to be a few years from now for this project. In­ter­est rates are ex­ceed­ingly low, and it may be that your sav­ings on con­struc­tion costs in the bids that you do now more than off­sets the cost of the in­ter­est bor­row­ing,” he said.

Judges Sa­muel Ozburn, Ho­race John­son and Ken Wynne also at­tended the board meet­ing. Ozburn said he hoped the board would con­sider mov­ing for­ward with the pro­posed ex­pan­sion as soon as pos­si­ble.

“I had the bailiffs at the front door keep up with the num­ber of peo­ple that come in that door, and so far this year pro­jected we would have had 154,200 peo­ple come through the doors of the ju­di­cial cen­ter,” he said. “That’s 50 per­cent big­ger than the pop­u­la­tion of this county.”

“When that build­ing was con­structed and opened in 1999, we only had three judges. We at that time had no idea that the county would grow at the rate that it did,” Ozburn said.

“We’ve had to resched­ule and de­lay jury tri­als and hear­ings on many oc­ca­sions, which caused the jail to back up… we are keep­ing peo­ple there at the county’s ex­pense.”

“We try to co­or­di­nate the use of the court­rooms in an ef­fi­cient way and we’re do­ing all that we can from a man­age­rial stand­point to get the max­i­mum use out of that. But with five judges we’re just really hav­ing a hard time.”

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