Its been a long time coming - four years, to be exact. But as of Friday, when the ceremonial ribbon is cut, Columbia Countys Evans courthouse annex will be open for business.
We are quite pleased, says 10th District Judicial Administrator Tom Gunnels. He shepherded the project through from its design after approval of a 1998 bond referendum financing the nearly $12 million facility, to its completion that is still a few days away as little details are polished up.
Gunnels ought to be pleased, because his bosses sure are. The Augusta Judicial Circuits Superior Court judges were responsible for many of the aesthetic changes and design alterations that may have raised the final cost of the building, but which also provided fine details that make the courthouse a community landmark that residents can be proud to pay for.
For the first time in modern history, superior court judges will now have permanent offices in Columbia County - though as a curious aside, neither of the two superior court judges who live in Columbia County are among those setting up shop here. Duncan Wheale and Jim Blanchard will continue to commute to offices in downtown Augusta.
The countys new resident judges, Lynn Allgood and Neal Dickert, are moving into a facility that is every bit as functional as it is attractive - and thats saying a lot, because as courthouses go, this one is pretty handsome.
Its come a long way, too. For those who may not remember, the first-draft design of the courthouse was just awful. The faade was sterile and institutional, not much better than the badly dated Columbia County Government Complex next door.
Thanks in part to suggestions from the judges, Rosser Justice Systems architects reworked the facility, maintaining is functionality but vastly improving its appearance. Columbia County now has a fine centerpiece for the Evans town center. More importantly, its also a fully-functioning courthouse annex that county officials tout for providing badly needed one-stop shopping for legal functions, and its located near the vast majority of county residents.
While the ceremonial ribbon-cutting takes place at 10 a.m. Friday morning, with public tours to follow, the facility already is open for business. Gunnels is justifiably pleased with the Justice Center - and the rest of us should be, too.
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