HC takes next step for new courthouse

Published 8:33 am Thursday, July 8, 2010

WINTON – The next step in building a new Hertford County Judicial Center (courthouse) was taken here Tuesday morning.

The Hertford County Board of Commissioners, meeting in regular session, unanimously supported a resolution that approves the construction of a Judicial Center – identified as Option 2B within a Courthouse Needs Assessment performed in October of last year. Additionally, the resolution gave the green light to County Manager Loria Williams to move forward in the procurement of a qualified architectural/engineering firm.

Williams informed the board that she would issue RFQ’s (Request for Qualifications) to architectural firms and hopes to have responses in-hand for the commissioners to review by their August meeting.

If plans go forward as expected, a new Judicial Center will be built across the street (in a dirt parking lot owned by the county) from the current courthouse. The 40,600 square-foot, two-story facility will house two courtrooms and office space for the Clerk of Court, Register of Deeds, Probation and Parole, District Attorney and Child Support Enforcement. The latter office space was recently added to the plans.

The projected cost is $7,990,121 – a figure estimated by Ware Bonsall Architects who performed the Courthouse Needs Assessment. While that price was the most expensive of the three options discussed by the commissioners since late last year, it does address all facets of county’s judicial needs, including bringing the District Attorney’s office, all of Hertford County Probation and Parole and Child Support Enforcement under one roof.

In a telephone interview following Monday’s meeting, Williams said she felt comfortable with the $7.99 million price tag, despite the fact it was determined eight months ago.

“I touched base with Ware Bonsall Architects about 30 days ago and they said there had been no major shift in the construction price,” Williams said. “That fact may or may not hold true for the future, so it’s in our best interest expedite this project in a way that fits within the price currently projected.”

Williams added that the “value engineering” construction process will also be studied, one that can save as much as a half-million dollars on the construction price.

As previously directed by the commissioners, Williams has begun the task of identifying funding sources for the project. She said the two leading candidates are USDA funding and a traditional bank financing (mortgage) loan.

The Courthouse Needs Assessment identified three options – renovating the current courthouse at a cost of $3.37 million; Option 2A which is roughly 31,000 square feet ($6.3 million) and adds nothing that is not already included in the current courthouse; and Option 2B, which the commissioners approved on a motion by Howard Hunter III seconded by William “Bill” Mitchell.

The new judicial center will be a two-story facility with the bottom floor used by the Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds and the second floor housing two court rooms and a multipurpose room which could be used for magistrate court, district court, grand jury or jury assembly meetings.

Overall, the facility would have two fully functional courtrooms, each with a deliberation room, judge’s chamber and holding cells. It would also have a functional and secure sallyport and inmate transfer/holding area.

There would be work space for Child Support Enforcement, Probation and Parole, the District Attorney, juvenile service intake and custody mediator as well as a building security office. Two office spaces would be provided for judges and support staff.

The main difference in option 2A and option 2B would be the addition of Probation and Parole, Child Support Enforcement and the District Attorney’s office to the Judicial Center. Currently Probation and Parole is spread out in three different buildings while the county is paying $30,000 per year for lease of the District Attorney’s office, currently located in Ahoskie. The county also leases ($2,887.50 per month) office space in Ahoskie for Child Support Enforcement.

The construction process is expected to take 18-to-24 months.

The current courthouse is showing signs of wear and tear, not to mention several shortcomings that have developed over its 50 years of existence. The list of shortcomings of the building began with access to the facility…there are four entrances, only one of which is handicap accessible, but there are no secure handicap accessible entrances. There are also major issues with the sloping of the floors.

Neither of the current courtrooms provides for handicap access to witness stands, judge’s bench or clerk/staff support areas.

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

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. 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.