Three options for HC Courthouse

Published 9:52 am Thursday, October 22, 2009

WINTON – The decision on what to do about the Hertford County Courthouse rests in the hands of county leaders.

Monday night, an official report was given to the Hertford County Commissioners listing deficiencies of the current structure, future needs and options as to how to proceed about upgrading or replacing the substandard facility.

Pete Cayado of Ware Bonsall Architects presented the results of a needs study which was done at the request of the county leaders.

The results show multiple concerns about the current courthouse, among which are compliance with the Americans With Disability Act, physical condition of the building and functionality of the structure.

It also offers three alternatives to replace or renovate the courthouse.

“The existing courthouse was evaluated for general physical condition, general condition of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, accessibility, safety and security and general functionality,” Cayado said. “Two options for replacing the existing Courthouse have also been provided. These options have been developed in cooperation with both the county’s courthouse stakeholders committee and the Courthouse Needs Assessment Committee.”

The list of shortcomings of the building began with access to the facility. According to the report, there are four entrances to the building, only one of which is handicap accessible, but there are no secure handicap accessible entrances.

“While the courthouse was built to be a single-level building, the sloping of the floor of the Superior courtroom necessitates three steps down in the main corridor,” the report reads. “Also, the area behind the District courtroom has several level changes. None of the steps or level changes in the building meets the current building code.”

The report also concludes that neither courtroom provides for handicap access to witness stands, judge’s bench or clerk/staff support areas. In addition, jury seating is not accessible and no adequate public seating is provided.

None of the group or individual toilet facilities in the courthouse meets the current ADA guidelines or North Carolina Building Code requirements, according to the report.

Other ADA problems include:

Vaults in the Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds office exceeds the maximum slope permitted under ADA code;

Doors throughout the facility lack appropriate hardware, approach clearances to meet standards; and

No public or staff toilets fully comply with standards.

There are also leakage concerns throughout the building, particularly in the office of the Clerk of Court. There is also mold growth in the staff restroom in the Clerk’s office.

Mechanical concerns are also noted in the facility. They include the mechanical room being only accessible through the main corridor outside the district courtroom. The overall systems are well-maintained, but are outdated, inefficient and insufficient to serve the building’s needs.

Another concern is functionality of the building, including a lack of storage space, no space at the main entrance and an unsecured entrance to the clerk’s area.

After reviewing the findings, an option to renovate the current structure was given at a cost of more than $2.9 million for construction only. There are other associated costs that pushes the total cost to $3.37 million.

There are also two options to build a new facility, which would be located across the street from the current courthouse (where there is currently a parking lot) if the commissioners take the suggestion of the committee.

One option adds space for growth of the current courthouse staff only while the other includes an option to add space for the District Attorney’s Office and for Probation and Parole.

The cost for the new facility with just expansion would be $6.3 million while adding the other two offices would push the figure to $7.9 million.

Hertford County Manager Loria D. Williams reminded the board that renovation of the current facility would not alleviate any current space problems because it would maintain the current structure.

“It does not deal with the space deficiencies at all,” Williams said.

Commission Chairman Howard J. Hunter III asked how the size of the Superior Courtroom in the new building would compare to the current one and was told it would be about 75 percent of the size.

Commissioner Curtis Freeman said he thought the added cost of moving staff and leasing space while the courthouse was renovated (if that option is chosen) was something that should be taken into account.

Judge Alfred W. Kwasikpui said he appreciated the District Court officials being represented on the committee. He also said the new courthouse was needed and urged the board to move forward.

“I know as county commissioners you have to be concerned with the fiscal side of it,” Judge Kwasikpui said. “I think the new Judicial Center would benefit not only those who work there, but also the public in Hertford County.”

Freeman then said he thought it was time to move forward because one accident could cost the county more than they would spend to build a new facility.

“We know there is a need,” Hunter said. “I believe we will do all we can to address the need.”

Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan was asked if he was pleased with the proposal and he said he was.

Hunter said the board would consider the matter at a later date.

Next in the series: Renovation option.