Courthouse study underway

Published 1:52 pm Monday, August 25, 2008

JACKSON – A committee is studying security, pests and structure concerns at the Northampton County Courthouse.

On Tuesday, the first official meeting of the Facility and Security Committee was held, bringing together 18 county and court officials to address the courthouse concerns.

Mold, bats, deterioration and unsecured entrances are just a few of the issues present in the circa 1858 courthouse. Acting on a report handed down by the North Carolina Rural Courts Commission, the committee was formed to look into those issues.

With Chief District Judge Alfred W. Kwasikpui acting as Chairperson of the committee, each of the recommendations listed in the Rural Commission’s report were placed in one of the three factions: Immediate and Urgent Needs, Security Changes and New Courthouse Complex. The 18-person committee was also broken up into three working groups to research the topics within those factions.

Clerk of Court Venus Michelle Spruill was designated as the work group leader for Immediate and Urgent Needs group which consists of six other committee members, including Northampton County Board of Commissioners’ Vice Chair Fannie Greene as well as officials from Public Works and Health Departments, Register of Deeds, Guardian Ad Litem and Building Inspection offices.

Sheriff Wardie Vincent will lead the nine-member Security Changes working group, which also includes District Attorney Valerie Asbell, Senior Magistrate Martha Buffaloe and Kwasikpui. The group also involves representatives from the Tax Department, local historical society, Probation and Custody and Mediation and Chief Court Counselor offices.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant Sr. was designated as the leader for the New Courthouse working group, which consists of seven court and county officials, including Northampton County Board of Commissioners’ Chair Robert Carter, County Manager Wayne Jenkins as well as

Kwasikpui, Spruill and Attorney Luther Culpepper.

Under Immediate and Urgent Needs, the committee listed:

* Inspection and correction of leaks

* Installation of screens and plastic for first floor windows

* Exclude bats, wasps, and bees from courthouse building

* Sheriff escorts for money deposits

* Night deposits for magistrates

* Courtrooms locked when not in use

* Secure clerk’s offices

* Lock all storage rooms

* Secure attic access

* Secure electric panels

* Repair back door

For Security Changes, the committee suggested:

* Installation of metal detectors at single point of entrance

* Metal detectors for Register of Deeds and Tax Office and installation of counter

* Installation of sound devices on courtroom doors

* Courthouse locked during non-business hours

* Probation change after-hours visits and access

* Secure areas under stairways

* Install panic buttons in all offices

* Movement of prisoners

* Video court appearances for inmates

* Reschedule district court sessions

* After hours juvenile visits

* After hours district attorney meetings with witnesses/law enforcement

* Attorney/client meeting rooms

Under New Courthouse Complex, the committee agreed to list:

* Dimensions–building design and occupancy

* Fenced parking lot for officials and courthouse staff

* Public access to superior courtroom and district attorney

* Surveillance cameras

* Attorney/client meeting rooms

* Probation meeting space away from other offices

The working groups will report back to the committee at their next meeting, scheduled for September 16.