New renderings of planned courthouse shown at Kiwanis
by Samantha Lyles
The new Darlington County courthouse will feature a handsome red brick exterior and white columns, hearkening back to the beloved old predecessor torn down in 1964. At the May 14 meeting of Darlington Kiwanis Club, new renderings of the planned courthouse were revealed and explained by Darlington County administrator Charles Stewart.
“This is one of the color schemes you will likely see, with columns and scrolls that kind of match what was on the old courthouse,” said Stewart. “In some semblance it’s new, and in some ways it’s a throwback to what was there before.”
Stewart discussed the lengthy process County Council went through to get to this point, including review of multiple funding options. Among these was a penny sales tax referendum rejected by county voters, and several bond options that would have required raising property taxes.
Instead, Stewart and Council employed “stringent financial management,” strengthening the county’s available fund balance over the past four years to the point where they can build a new $14 million courthouse without incurring debt or raising taxes.
To ensure the new facility meets or exceeds security requirements, planning involved input from the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office and court administration personnel. Stewart said that the new 33,000 square foot building will provide adequate space to keep contentious court participants separated, keep judges, witnesses, and attorneys from accidentally encountering defendants, and provide safe parking, transit, and office spaces for judicial staff.
The first floor will feature a large courtroom suitable for general sessions court. The second floor will have two courtrooms to host family court, grand juries, or other proceedings. A dedicated “mini detention facility” is also planned for holding inmates prior to their court appearances to keep them from mixing with the general public.
The building will be located on North Main Street near the Historical Commission and the Carnegie Library. Stewart said the courthouse footprint will fit on county property between Fountain Street and Hewitt Street. It should offer 46 parking spaces on site, with 30 additional spaces in a side lot.
One Kiwanis member asked what would become of the current courthouse, which has endured multiple problems with water penetration and heating and cooling since its construction in 1964-65. Stewart said that building will host county government offices such as the treasurer, assessor, planning, etc. All judicial operations will be moved to the new building.
Another person queried whether the new courthouse would be a “green building,” to which Stewart replied that it will be much more energy efficient than its predecessor, with modern systems and LED lighting throughout.
Stewart also observed that members of County Council were committed to keeping the courthouse in the county seat of Darlington.
“The Council that’s sitting now fought very strongly to make sure it stayed in the downtown area, not on the outskirts somewhere or even the idea of moving it out of town,” Stewart said.
He added that final plans would be presented to Darlington County Council for review within the week. By August, final plans should be ready to send to City of Darlington for permitting. Construction bids should be received in September and October, and groundbreaking should take place in January of 2021.
“From what I’m told, turnkey before we get in the building will be the following year,” Stewart said.