Take a look at us now

Published 9:18 am Tuesday, March 26, 2013

WINTON – Good things come to those who wait.

In a process that officially got under way more than six years ago, ground was broken on Friday morning, signaling the start of a $12.225 million project to build a Hertford County Judicial Center and Government Center along US 158 just west of Winton.

A standing room only crowd first filled the Hertford County Board of Commissioners meeting room to hear from local officials about the project. The group then moved to the site where dirt was formally turned to start the construction phase of this long-awaited and much debated project.

“I can remember meeting with (Resident Superior Court) Judge (Cy) Grant and others to embark on this journey,” said Hertford County Manager Loria Williams as she opened the ceremony in Winton. “In his travels as a Judge to other courthouses, he had concerns about the county courthouse over how our facility compared to the others.

Not only was it a concern for the judges, but to those who either worked in or frequently used our courthouse – Probation and Parole, Clerk of Court, Register of Deeds…they expressed concern for a very long time.

But even higher on the list are the citizens of Hertford County, those served by Hertford County local government.”

Williams said she was very appreciative of those citizens voting in the quarter-cent sales tax a few years ago as that money was set aside and will continue to be used to help pay the debt service on the two new facilities.

“Without that tax, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be able to embark upon such a comprehensive project such as this,” she said.

Each of North Carolina Judicial District 6B judges attended the ceremony, to include Judge Grant, Chief District Judge Rob Lewis, Judge Tom Jones Jr. and newly elected Judge Vershenia Ballance Moody, as well as District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell and retired Judge Al Kwasikpui.

Hertford County local government officials Shirley Johnson (Clerk of Court), Melanie Storey (Register of Deeds), Sheriff Juan Vaughan and Probation and Parole officials were also in attendance, as were municipal officials from Hertford County.

US Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan sent representatives to Friday’s ground-breaking ceremony.

Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman gave a timeline of the project, one that began in earnest on Jan. 29, 2007 where the board received a structural assessment of the current courthouse. In June of 2008, the commissioners approved a needs assessment study. Three months later, a Courthouse Stakeholders Committee was formed and the process began in earnest to develop a blueprint of a new Judicial Center.

“This wasn’t something that the five men elected to this board did on our own, we received extremely valuable information from the Stakeholders Committee,” Freeman stressed.

In October of 2008, Ware Bosnell Architects was hired to conduct the needs assessment study. Nearly one year later, the Stakeholders Committee had basically finalized the space components needed for the new Judicial Center. On July 6, 2010, the commissioners adopted a resolution approving the design and construction of the Judicial Center.

“I could go on and on about how we got to this day, but the bottom line is that we’re finally here,” Freeman said. “We are here today to turn some soil on the future of Hertford County.”

Freeman thanked the Riversedge Development partners for donating 25 acres of land for the project.

“They made this possible through their donation,” he stated. “They made our job easy because if you remember, we have five commissioners and each had a different angle on where they thought the new courthouse needed to be built. They were all legitimate suggestions, but when the proposal came from Riversedge for the donation of land, all five of us jumped onboard because that saves taxpayer money.”

Freeman said he felt a project of this magnitude would put Hertford County on the map.

“I’m proud to call this county as my home; I feel we’re second to none,” he said. “This Judicial Center shows that. When people use it or pass by it, they’ll be proud as well. Just take a look at what we have.”

Commission Vice Chairman Bill Mitchell said he had three reasons to be proud over this new project.

“First of all as a citizen of this great county; as the District Manager of Probation and Parole; and as a County Commissioner,” Mitchell stated. “This facility means so much to me. I want it to be a staple of our county for years to come. A courthouse is more than just courtrooms; it does so much for the community. Economic development wise, people will be able to see where we’re going…it shows progress and this county is all about progress.”

Commissioner Howard Hunter III said developing a project of this magnitude was not a simple task.

“We’ve had our ups and downs and plenty of challenges leading up to this special day,” he noted. “I’d like to thank my fellow commissioners for all their hard work and thank the staff – Ms. Williams and her staff for the work they done as well as the work of our county attorney Chuck Revelle.”

Veteran Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer was among the county leaders that have witnessed several movements over the years to develop plans for a new courthouse.

“When I first became a commissioner, our Register of Deed, Kathleen Wright, invited me over to her office in the courthouse,” Farmer recalled. “I went over there and she showed me the buckets on the floor that were collecting water because the roof leaked when it rained. I saw the same thing in the Clerk of Court office. All we were doing at that time was patching the problems.”

Farmer likened the long process of developing plans for a new Judicial Center to that of making sausage.

“If you’ve ever made homemade sausage, you know what I’m talking about,” he noted. “Making it is an ugly process, but when you fry it, it’s something pretty and good to eat. That’s the way this process has been to build a new courthouse, it’s been an ugly process at times, it’s been a long process, but today is a new day with a beautiful new courthouse ready to be built, one that I know the citizens of Hertford County will be proud of.”

Judge Grant, speaking at the close of the groundbreaking ceremony, told the News-Herald of the long process it took to get to this special day.

“I work in a unique position as I have the opportunity to travel all over eastern North Carolina to conduct court,” he stated. “In my 25 years of travel, I noted five or six counties that needed to either build a new courthouse or renovate their existing one. Over that time all had performed that task with the exception of Hertford County. That was disheartening to me, so today is a good day for this county.”

Judge Grant remembered one case in particular that he said showed the deteriorating conditions of the existing Hertford County Courthouse. He said it was a civil case where a local church was suing a termite company over services rendered that allegedly failed.

“An expert came here to testify about termite damage,” Grant recalled. “To show what type of damage termites can cause, he literally got up off the witness stand, went to the jury box, shook it and said this is what termite damage looks like. That was embarrassing to this county.”

District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell said she was happy to see Hertford County local government making such an investment on behalf its citizens.

“I’m very excited about moving into the new courthouse. It’s going to be a beautiful facility for my office as well as for the citizens of Hertford County and others using it,” she said. “Personally, the idea of moving my office (currently in Ahoskie) here is great. It puts my office closer to the judges and other court officials. We’ll also have technology within the courtrooms set up without having to step over cords on the floor like we do now.”

Judge Lewis said the new Judicial Center is needed.

“There are safety concerns and issues with the courthouse as it stands now,” he remarked. “Plus the physical structure of the existing courthouse is compromised. This new courthouse will allow us the opportunity better protect those who work there as well as those involved in the judicial process. It brings us all together under one roof. It will also allow us to upgrade technology and use that in a much more effective and efficient way.”

Before being elected as a District Court Judge two years ago, Jones served as an attorney for decades and frequently used the existing Hertford County Courthouse.

“We finally have a new courthouse on the way that’s very, very needed,” Jones stated. “It’s going to be nice to have everything centrally located under one roof. It’s been long overdue.”

Judge Moody once worked as an Assistant District Attorney in HalifaxCounty where the courthouse was more modern than HertfordCounty’s aging facility.

“I know what it’s like to work in a safe, secure courtroom environment,” she said. “It’s very beneficial to have it all under one roof….the Register of Deeds, Clerk’s office, the DA office, the judges and Probation and Parole. Once this new JudicialCenter opens here, you’ll see just how amazing it is and how well everything will work together.”

Sheriff Vaughan stated he appreciated what the county was doing in an effort to move into the future.

“This has been a long time coming,” Vaughan said of the new courthouse. “I started working in 1981 as a deputy with the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office and to go from then to now and see the accomplishments we’ve made and how well this new building will look, it’s going to be great. The safety and technology of this new building is in place to protect everyone using it.”

In early December of last year, the commissioners awarded the construction contract for the two facilities to A.R. Chesson Company of Williamston. The construction is priced at $9,983,476. The remaining costs are furnishings and equipment ($666,738), design fees and expenses ($850,306), land and right-of-way ($70,000), materials/testing/special inspections ($155,744) and contingency ($499,174).

The JudicialCenter (courthouse) will be a three story facility encompassing 45,456 gross square feet. The Center will house all departments in the existing courthouse plus the District Attorney’s Office and Child Enforcement Office, both currently in Ahoskie.

Additionally, the project includes a single story Government Center (10,385 gross square feet) that will be built adjacent, but not connected, to the courthouse. That facility will house the county manager’s office, tax collection office, tax assessment office, land records, finance office and economic development (planning and zoning) office. In turn, that space in the current administration building in Winton will be used by Hertford County DSS.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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