Work continues on new courthouse expansion; construction expected to finish next month

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With most of the exterior work now completed, workers are now spending extra hours on the job in preparation for the completion of the new addition to the Switzerland County Courthouse.

The new county jail will hold an open house on Saturday, October 8th, and if everything goes as planned, the courthouse addition should also be ready at that time.

“We are expecting a punch list on September 29th,” Bruce Williams, who has been overseeing the construction for the county commissioners, said. “That’s when the owners and the architect will go through the building and see what work still needs to be done, like touching up the paint or other small work. We’re on target for that.”

Bruce Williams said that once the punch list is completed, the work identified will be done, which he anticipated would take two days under normal conditions. Once the owners — technically the Switzerland County Commissioners — are satisfied, then they will officially accept the building, and office holders can then begin moving into the facility.

Work was going on in the judge’s offices on Tuesday, with some of the new furniture being assembled; and workers were busy handling other tasks that need to be completed before the walk through by the commissioners.

“Right now we’re talking about some small items that need to be fixed, nothing major at this point,” Bruce Williams said. “It’s a tribute to the project superintendent, Tom Westerman, who’s really done an outstanding job of keeping both projects on track. We have been lucky to have him.”

Among the items that Bruce Williams says workers are focusing on include the replacement of some of the ceiling tiles that have been blemished during the work; installing the counter tops in the clerk’s and recorder’s offices; and making adjustments on the mechanisms that run the elevator.

He said that all of the phone service for the building is pretty much in place; and landscaping is being done around both the new addition and the existing courthouse structure. Some outside lighting still needs to be installed; and the electricians are doing their final work.

“Once all of that is finished, the whole place will need a good cleaning,” Bruce Williams said. “With all of the workers in and out of there over all of this time, everything will have to be cleaned really well before we start moving everyone in.”

Painters and plasterers were on site Tuesday working on different areas of the building; and security railing encircling the rotunda on the second floor that looks down into the main lobby also is being installed.

Outside, most of the blacktopping has been done, but a final coating still needs to be put down before the project is completed.

“We’re just looking at minor things at this point, really,” Bruce Williams said. “I’ve asked the workers from the different offices who are moving in to go over everything very carefully and tell me anything that they see needs to be fixed. We’re on track.”

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Once the county officially accepts the building, county residents will use the new addition to visit most of the offices that have to do with the county’s court system.

Moving to the new addition will be the offices of Superior Court Judge John Mitchell and Circuit Court Judge Ted Todd; their support staff; the offices of county prosecutor Chris Naylor and his staff; the probation department; and the county offices of the clerk, recorder, and there will also be a room for the surveyor.

The main floor will feature the clerk’s offices; the recorder’s offices; and space for the surveyor; and there is also room for storage of property documents that have been such a problem for the county over the past few years, with filing cabinets being placed in the hallways to accommodate the documents.

Downstairs in the new addition will be a genealogy room for people wanting to trace their family history; and there is also a break room for county employees that can also be used as space for public meetings, such as county commissioner and county council meetings, if those groups decide to relocate.

The second floor features the offices of the judge, prosecutor, and probation officer; and there is also a jury deliberation room.

All three floors have rest room facilities, and there is a stairwell on each end and an elevator in the center of the facility that will allow visitors to access not only all of the new offices, but also the offices in the current courthouse.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the new addition is that it is actually not an addition to the current courthouse at all — but instead is a free standing building that attaches to the current courthouse by a two-story tall, glass enclosed set of walkways.

Those visiting the courthouse who want to do business in the new section will walk through this “connector” and into the new area. Each of the two buildings has its own heating and air conditioning system that will act independently of each other.

At the base of the connector are handicap-accessible ramps; and new sidewalks branch out to the east and west of the courthouse, across the lawn to sidewalks and parking along Liberty and Main Cross streets.

For a county that for years has struggled with providing handicap access, the new addition eliminates those problems for the foreseeable future.

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As excitement builds around the new addition, some county offices will remain in the historic original courthouse.

The offices of the auditor, assessor, and treasurer will stay in the current facility — with some rearranging designed to give those offices more space.

The proposed plan has the auditor’s office expanding and taking in the current assessor’s offices; and Joan Armstrong and her assessor staff will move across the hall into the offices currently occupied by the county clerk’s staff.

The treasurer’s office will remain where it is; and the current recorder’s office is expected to become the offices of the highway department secretary and the planning and zoning office.

The new facility contains !2,392 square feet, which more than doubles the current courthouse space. The current courthouse has 11,227 square feet.

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Work also continues on the north side of Pike Street, as Switzerland County Sheriff Nathan Hughes said that the 911 offices will be moving their operations into the new jail today (Thursday). Other departments will move out of the old sheriff’s office and into the new jail over the coming weeks, all in preparation of the facility’s public open house on Saturday, October 8th.