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Courthouse issues addressed

JACKSON — In its second meeting, the Facility and Security Committee has already made progress and is looking to address more concerns regarding the Northampton County Courthouse.

At their Tuesday meeting, the committee’s three sub-groups gave reports of what each had accomplished and what recommendations they could offer.

At the committee’s first meeting, Committee Chair Chief District Judge Alfred W. Kwasikpui designated three sub-groups: Immediate and Urgent Needs, Security Changes and New Courthouse Complex, in order to address concerns about the 150-year old facility. The immediate and urgent needs group’s leader, Clerk of Court Michelle Spruill, reported a list of issues that had been already taken care of, including:

* Stair wells being re-plastered.

* The repair of a rotten door frame in the Superior Courtroom. Brown streaks of an unknown substance being removed from Judge Gay’s Library.

* All doors to closets/storage rooms now under lock and key.

* The electrical service panel boxes beneath the staircase are now under lock and key.

Spruill also reported the source of entry for bats into the courthouse has been located. Code Enforcement Officer Charlie J. Watson, Jr., who serves on the sub-group, attested to the discovery.

Watson stated the hole, located where the roof and the soffit meet in the back of the courthouse, is approximately the size of a sheet of paper.

The group also addressed tile replacement on the second and third floor of the building. Group members noted that the testing for asbestos would have to be done before the tile is replaced. The group gave an estimate of $28,000 (minus the asbestos testing) to replace the tile, though more estimates and options are forthcoming.

The Security Changes sub-group, led by Sheriff Wardie P. Vincent, reported they had studied several of the topics under their charge.

Vincent spoke on placing buzzers at entrances/exits to the courthouse to help control the traffic pattern to the back entrance, placing panic buttons in the courtrooms and starting a procedure for employees to check in with the Sheriff’s Office before they utilize the building after hours.

The use of metal detectors was also discussed and Vincent said additional deputies would be needed to man that equipment.

Vincent said he had surveyed the needs of the Tax and Registrar of Deeds departments. Among the security changes in those buildings he suggested placing partitions at the counter and securing main doors that lead into offices. The sub-group also addressed coordinating bank deposits with deputy escorts with those departments.

County Manager Wayne Jenkins reported to the committee for the New Courthouse Complex sub-group on behalf of Judge Cy Grant who was unable to attend the meeting.

Jenkins said the group had agreed they needed to know more about what the future facility needed.

“We’re talking about a major, major investment…either renovating the current facility or building a new courthouse,” he said.

Jenkins suggested laying out a reasonable time line regarding what needed to be done and have the commissioners contract a needs assessment of the facility.

Kwasikpui recommended the group look at space needs, as on Monday three sessions of court were taking place at the same time and child support motions were held in the local Public Library because all the courtrooms were in use.

Among the recommendations that will be sent before the Northampton County Board of Commissioners include:

* Contracting with TrueTech pest removal company for a $19,998 contract to humanly remove all the bats, remove excess guano (bat feces) from the attic, disinfect the area and seal the areas where the bats make entry. TrueTech’s work would be guaranteed for three years. Jenkins agreed he would submit this proposal to the commissioners in 30 days.

* Hire two additional deputy sheriff’s to man the metal detector equipment. The committee decided on 90 days before this topic going before the commissioners.

* Request for proposal to perform a complete needs assessment which will include a building design, parking needs, staffing and space needs. The proposal shall include a cost estimate to construct a new facility or perform major renovations. The committee decided on 180 days before this would go before the commissioners.

Jenkins was also asked by the committee to mandate all county employees entering/exiting the courthouse after business hours to check in with the Sheriff’s Office.

The committee asked for the mandating of the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to schedule after hours meetings in their intensive office.