The Columbia County Justice Center in Evans has proved to be popular with court employees and attorneys. The facility, with four courtrooms and several offices, has been open since July 2002.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Special Section: Justice Center Dedication
Court has not been held in the state's oldest functioning courthouse in Appling since the Columbia County Justice Center and Courthouse Annex opened in summer 2002.
Despite the new courthouse's stately presence, roomy interior and state-of-the-art technology, those who use it say it's the convenience of the now 2-year-old Evans location that they most enjoy.
"On the average day, it is about a 20-minute drive from downtown to that office, whereas Appling was always at least a 30- to 40-minute drive," Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Danny Craig said. "When you multiply that by 17 district attorneys ... you can see, each day when you have court out there, you are saving a half day or three quarters of a day of lawyer time."
Since the courthouse opened in July 2002, attorneys have found it is convenient to have an office near the courthouse. More and more are showing up every day.
Attorney William Davison operates his practice from an office across from the courthouse on Ronald Reagan Drive. A space in a four-office building, which is under construction next to Davison's office, will be used by local attorney Richard Ingram.
Several others have either set up second locations or moved their practices to sites on South Belair and North Belair roads.
"It is likely we are going to see an influx of attorneys since the courthouse is here," said Jeff Browning, the county's Planning and Development Services director.
Don Lawrence, the developer of the Marshall Square site, a project off North Belair Road that will include residential, retail and office space, said he has talked to several attorneys who have expressed interest in a possible office building to be constructed on the property across from Ronald Reagan Drive.
Attorneys aren't the only ones enjoying the new courthouse.
"It is more convenient for most of the population in the county," said Gloria Crosby, the traffic director in Probate Court.
The 69,000-square-foot courthouse is, in a sense, one-stop shopping; most of the county's offices and services are located in the courthouse or the surrounding government complex.
Construction began there in February 2000, and the first court session was held in late July 2002. The nearly $14 million building houses four courtrooms; four hearing rooms; a grand jury room; probate, juvenile and magistrate courts; the court clerk's office; and several other offices.
Crosby said one big plus is that employees can finally go out for lunch. Nothing but a convenience store was close enough to the Appling courthouse.
With so little space in the Appling courthouse, new employees were restricted by space.
"We were really crowded up there," Crosby said. "We had nowhere to put them. We'd have had to stack them on top of each other."
Crosby said the few complaints about the courthouse were about the walking distance to the parking lot. But since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, spaces cannot be close to a government building.
Craig, who spends plenty of time in the new building's four courtrooms, said his only complaint is that the space in the bar area in front of the main courtroom isn't wide enough to accommodate all the attorneys, support staff and technology needed there.
"I couldn't want a better environment within which to get our work done," he said. "If all we have got to complain about is the fact that we came up 6 feet short in one courtroom after having used it intensively for two years, then I think we should count our blessings."
Other than a broken sprinkler head inside a clerk of court's break room that nearly flooded records, the courthouse has experienced only minor growing pains, such as getting the heating and cooling system properly balanced, county Construction and Maintenance Director Kevin Lear said.
"I think it has been a real good success," said Ron Cross, Columbia County Commission chairman. "Everybody has been happy with it. The judges have been happy with it.''
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.