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Public tours aging courthouse

JACKSON — From security issues to the lack of parking to mold and mildew issues, citizens now have an idea of the conditions at the Northampton County Courthouse.

On Monday, the public got a first-hand account of the situation facing visitors and employees inside the 152-year-old historic courthouse.

Chief District 6B Court Judge Alfred Kwasikpui along with several other court officials and County Manager Wayne Jenkins escorted citizens around the courthouse to better educate them on the concerns of the aging facility and the needs of judicial officials and courthouse employees.

“We want the citizens to understand the problems inside the courthouse,” said Judge Kwasikpui.

The concerns about the courthouse first came to light after a visit from the Rural Courts Commission two years ago. The commission’s duty is to collect data on the conditions of the court facilities and gauge the needs of judicial officials.

From their visit, one of the recommendations handed down from the commission was for the county and court officials to form a committee to address the needs outlined by the commission. From that recommendation, the Northampton County Courthouse Facility and Security Committee was made up of an array of judicial and county officials and chaired by Judge Kwasikpui.

Since that time, the committee has spearheaded a needs assessment and has recommended to the Board of Commissioners the construction of a new courthouse, which is estimated to cost $11.37 million.

During the tour on Monday, citizens were shown areas on each of the three floors of the facility. Points of concern included common areas, like hallways and restrooms, shared by the public, defendants and court officials. Health risks from water damaged walls and pest waste were also pointed out on the tour.

Though citizens were there to observe courthouse concerns, they also brought their own, in particular what is going to be done about the old courthouse if a new one is constructed as well as funding the $11 million project.

“There’s no plans, no discussion of tearing this building down,” Jenkins assured citizens about the historic building’s future. “This is our heritage, this is our culture, this is our county.”

When asked what was to be done with the building once it was no longer in use as a courthouse, Jenkins said he wasn’t sure as the new courthouse project is still in the early stages, but that it would be useful to the community. He added ideas from citizens were welcomed.

Jenkins said with no funding source identified yet for the project, it has been included on the county’s capital improvement plan as number five on the list. The capital improvement plan includes projects with no funding source identified and may be three to five years out from being funded. Each year the commissioner review each of the projects and those that have no funding source are placed back into the plan.

Judge Kwasikpui said the tour to educate the public on the facility’s concerns is a part in the phase of working toward a new courthouse.

“We understand the money is not there,” he said. “This is going to take a lot of study. …The main thing is to have an opinion on it.”