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Study: Downtown Conyers site $18M more expensive for new judicial center
Plans likely tabled until funding found
A conceptual image of the judicial center at the Parker Road location, which would cost an estimated $63 million, also pictures a possible administrative center, which was not included in estimated cost. The downtown site cost was estimated at $81 million. - photo by Courtesy of Rockdale County
A study comparing the cost of expanding the courthouse facilities in downtown Conyers and building a new courthouse on Rockdale County’s Parker Road property determined the downtown site would cost about $18 million more.
The study, performed by Cousins Properties and Heery International, evaluated costs based on projected court and personnel needs 20 years into the future, or up to 2029, and was based on assessments from talking with court personnel, said Michael Smith, director of the county’s capital and community improvements division.  Smith pointed out that the 20-year projection was more than the county would have the budget to build but was used to avoid a situation where the judicial center was “boxed in.”
Building a new facility at the 40-acre Parker Road location would reportedly cost about $63 million. The downtown Conyers expansion would reportedly cost about $81 million — a figure that include building additions, minor renovations in two of the existing court buildings, major renovations in the third court building and offsite improvements.
“The building costs are almost identical,” said Michael Smith, who added that a new building cost is actually higher per square foot than renovating existing buildings. “It’s the off-site and infrastructure improvements that primarily drive the difference in cost.”
Those off-site improvements include a parking deck, estimated at $6 million, and improvements in the streets around the complex, such as redoing utilities, intersection improvements for traffic and redoing the streetscapes.
Conyers Councilman Marty Jones pointed out building a parking deck was already a part of the city’s plans for Olde Town. “We’re just waiting to see how big of a deck we need to build,” he said. 
Conyers City Manger Tony said he had not heard the details of the study’s figures, but that if the judicial center were to move to Parker Road, it would have a “dramatic affect on the viability of Olde Town Conyers and the business that are there now and those that want to be.”
Conyers Mayor Randy Mills said, upon hearing the summarized figures, “Obviously they have to find a way to pay for it, but once that comes up, we hope they look at the totality of land use and phased in costs as well.”
Jones added, “The bigger picture for me is where should (the judicial center) be built. It should be built in Olde Town. That’s where it needs to be built. If you want to go to urban sprawl, Parker Road is your spot.”
Smith said the next steps in the plan would be to select a site and set up a budget, but that there would probably be little forward movement on the plan in the near future. 
“I think this is something they’re going to table, until the economic situation improves,” said Smith. 
The existing courthouses have been modified a number of times over the years, said Smith, and the study found the workload and caseload of the superior, magistrate and juvenile courts have been steadily growing over the past 15 years while the state court caseload has increased tremendously. Mention of a need for a new courthouse was first included in the 2003 county comprehensive plan, and the study by Heery and Cousins was commissioned last December at a cost of $100,000.