So, I thought, this is what were spending eleven-and-a-half million bucks for.
Construction of the new Columbia County Court-house Annex, the brick behemoth that has risen next to the Evans Government Complex, is heading into the home stretch. It doesnt have a lawn yet and most of the floors and trim inside arent finished. But there is enough completed for a casual visit.
Tom Gunnells guided a private tour the other day. Hes the court administrator for the 10th District Superior Court, which means he is the point man for the judges who eventually will be housed in the courthouse. (He wont say who those judges will be, just yet.)
On behalf of the judges, Gunnells has conveyed the need for some pricey additions to the courthouse, including $50,000 for more office wiring. Hes surprisingly good-natured when teased about the extras, and is quick to note corresponding cost-saving measures that have gone into the construction.
Take, for example, the courtrooms. Each is outfitted with dark-stained wood trim, including raised, custom-made furniture. Thats not mahogany, Gunnells points out. Its birch plywood, stained to look like it. So are the wall accents and the benches for lawyers to sit, and the other trim along the doors and walls.
Those little details flow together and create what currently is a maze of dusty, unfinished rooms and corridors. After the building is completed, most of the public who paid for it will have access only to part of it. The rest is reserved for judicial offices. There also is room for deputies and for inmates, held in mini-prisons hidden deep within the building.
It is the public areas, though, that will inspire awe from visitors - whether they are coming in just to see what their tax dollars purchased, as a participant in legal proceedings, or to research county records.
Entering through towering columns dominating the front, visitors will be greeted by deputies and a walk-through metal detector. Such is the state of modern life; security is a priority for any public building, especially a courthouse.
Once the screening is over, the panoramic view opens: twin stairways rise to a long balcony overlooking the two-story foyer. The entrance repeats some of the architectural themes of the outside, with curves, arches and columns.
Security doesnt stop at the front door. Visitors who want to get into restricted areas have to push a button for the location they want to enter, and receptionists inside will see the visitors faces on a video screen.
Getting into the courtrooms up-stairs wont be as difficult. Once inside, visitors will enter the cutting edge of judicial technology. Raised metal floors hide miles of wire for sound and video. In the biggest courtroom there even is a walled-off cubicle to house the media.
As expected, there are a few hiccups in the facility. A floor-to-ceiling crack in the concrete grins from the wall of one interior stairwell. A second-floor window is hidden awkwardly behind a support pillar. Another window is temporarily covered by plywood while the design is shuffled to put the window where one wasnt planned.
I think its going to turn out fine, and the functionality will be good, says Ron Cross, the facilitys builder. But I wont deny its been a struggle.
Alls well as ends well, though. Even amid the dust and noise of construction, the project is awe-inspiring. Back in 1998, voters gave their overwhelming approval to the bonds that are paying for the annex. When its all completed, theyll be overwhelmingly proud of what their community has gotten for their money.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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