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Judicial expansion over SPLOST budget
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The Newton County Board of Commissioners listened to expansion plans for the Judicial Center at their meeting Tuesday and heard at the meeting that the expansion would go over the SPLOST budget.

Rowland Davidson of Lyman Davidson and Dooley, Inc - the architect for the expansion - presented the board with construction plans for the project as well as its budget, which is total of $9,898,268. SPLOST funding for the project is $7 million.

According to the project budget, an estimated $6.9 million is for the construction of the expansion, but with audio/visual design and equipment, security systems, furniture and fixtures, several other additions included in the expansion and a contingency fee of $900,000, the budget for the expansion amounts to the $9.9 million. Where additional funding would come from for the expansion was not discussed. There was no vote on the presented plans as it was for informational purposes only.

Davidson said Phase 1 of the construction will be funded by the 2011 SPLOST. He presented the board with the sub-basement floor plan, which included separate holding cells for adult and juvenile inmates and office areas for the bailiffs. Both the adult and juvenile holding areas will have separate entrances into the building.

"We're putting them in a sub-basement area to maintain security, and then the only time they will be brought from this holding area up to the courtrooms is during their court dates," Davidson said. "We have to create a secure circulation throughout the building to maintain that security."

On the first floor of the judicial center, Davidson said there will be a main entrance with two security check-in lines to speed up the process of entering the facility.

"The current judicial center had originally been designed with two separate entrances. One of those entrances has been closed over the years due to security. So part of the confusion was which doors do you actually go in to enter the building," Davidson said.

"So with this main entry, we close off the two entrances and re-assign that space into functional space and this new lobby entry will have two check-in security lines to speed up on busy days in the court," he said. "This is the best way to maintain a safe environment for the court system."

Also on the first floor there will be a new juvenile courtroom that will be expanded from the current juvenile court and the current juvenile court will be re-assigned to the magistrate court. Davidson added that there will be new judge's chambers for the juvenile courtroom, court areas for family visitation and attorney rooms. He said the current judicial parking area for the judge's will remain in place, but a new judge's entrance will be added to the rear of the building.

On the second floor, there will be a new check-in area for jurors, a 250-seat impaneling room, and three new judge's chambers for the judges and their staff. The current impaneling room will be turned into a fourth superior court,

The third floor of the plan is for future expansion. It will include an expanded Clerk of Court's Office, District Attorney's Office and a grand jury room.

"The Clerk of Court would remain where they are and expand on the current floor. Those are renovations not new construction. The District Attorney's Office would then move into the new space on the third floor along with an adequately sized grand jury room that is currently not in the facility," he said. "These are very important spaces and are listed as an alternative from the pricing standpoint."

Davidson said the total expansion is 35,000 square feet and the new plans for the expansion should blend with the current architecture so that it would look as though it was never expanded.

"I think with the character of Covington and the architecture in this area, we wanted to be sensitive to that and make sure that this building would sort of blend with the rest of the community," he said.

County Attorney Tommy Craig said the board agreed not to issue revenue bonds for SPLOST projects. He suggested that the county use a certificate of participation, which he said is similar to a mortgage, for the funding needed for the project.

"The $7 million will be borrowed from the said bank or the ACCG [Association County Commissioner's of Georgia]," he said. "We would borrow money from the bank and the interest rate is relatively low, and we would finance the construction over five years." He added that the budget didn't include the interest rates that would be required.

"The reason to consider this is at this point and time is number one, construction costs are probably less now than it's going to be a few years from now for this project remaining. Interest rates are exceedingly low, and it may be that your savings on construction cost in the bids that you do now more than offsets the cost of the interest borrowing," he said.

Judges Samuel Ozburn, Horace Johnson and Ken Wynne also attended the board meeting. Ozburn said he hoped the board would consider moving forward with the proposed expansion as soon as possible.

"I had the bailiffs at the front door keep up with the number of people that come in that door, and so far this year projected we would have had 154,200 people come through the doors of the judicial center," he said. "That's 50 percent bigger than the population of this county."
"When that building was constructed and opened in 1999, we only had three judges. We at that time had no idea that the county would grow at the rate that it did," Ozburn said.

"We've had to reschedule and delay jury trials and hearings on many occasions, which caused the jail to back up ... we are keeping people there at the county's expense."

"We try to coordinate the use of the courtrooms in an efficient way and we're doing all that we can from a managerial standpoint to get the maximum use out of that. But with five judges we're just really having a hard time."