By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Darlington County Council held a special called meeting on Nov. 20 to officially contract architectural and engineering services for a new $14 million courthouse.
Council voted almost unanimously to work with Columbia-based design firm Michael Baker International Inc. (MBI). The lone “nay” vote came from Albert Davis III (District 6, Hartsville).
According to the contract, the county wishes the cost of the new building to be $13 million.
MBI will be paid $1,226,560 to supervise the design and construction of the facility.
At a special meeting held Oct. 2, council reviewed preliminary conceptual designs for the new judicial center. As depicted in artist renderings and floor plans, the new 38,000-square-foot building would feature improved security for judges and court personnel with a separate entrance and exit, gated parking lot and sequestered office space.
A sally port (for loading and unloading detainees from vehicles) and a secured detention area would keep prisoners making court appearances safely apart from judges, attorneys, jurors, witnesses, and court employees.
The building will hold five judges’ offices, each with an administrative area and restrooms.
Three specific elevators will serve judges, criminal detainees, and the public.
General Sessions court would take place on the first floor in a courtroom with roughly the same footprint as the current fifth floor courtroom.
On the second floor, a main courtroom and separate waiting areas for family court would keep contentious parties away from each other prior to their hearings. Two auxiliary courtrooms on this floor could host family court, civil court, grand juries, or other such proceedings.
The proposed judicial center site on North Main Street (in front of the Historical Commission) includes 46 new public parking spaces. These spaces would be available to citizens conducting court business or visiting administrative offices, which will remain in the current courthouse building on the Public Square. A gated lot for court personnel will have 15 parking spaces.
County administrator Charles Stewart has said that planning and construction costs will be covered by fund balance money the county already has on hand. Stewart also said that once the first shovel of dirt is turned, it could take up to 36 months before the new judicial center is ready for occupancy.
Also at this Nov. 20 meeting, Council approved a two year contract extension for Stewart. The contract raises Stewart’s annual salary to $125,000. Councilman Davis also voted ‘nay’ on Stewart’s contract.
On the meeting agenda, the following Thanksgiving holiday schedule changes were noted: Darlington County offices will be closed Nov. 28 and 29, and the Landfill and Solid Waste Collection Centers will close at 1 p.m. on Nov. 27 and remain closed all day on Nov. 28.
Darlington County Council’s next scheduled meeting will be Monday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. in the Courthouse Annex/EMS Building located at 1625 Harry Byrd Hwy in Darlington.