County makes case for new courthouse

PHOTO: Sgt. Rickie Cotton addresses a group of media representatives at an Oct. 6. tour of the Santa Rosa County Courthouse. Cotton supervises court security and led a guided tour of the outdated facility, pointing out safety concerns and other problems with the aging building.

Expect to see a lot of news stories and editorials highlighting the need for a new Santa Rosa County courthouse leading up to the Nov. 4 general election.

Voters will be asked to decide if they want to fund the estimated $50 million project through a 5-year one-cent sales tax increase. Voters will also be able to voice support or opposition for all three pre-selected sites for the proposed 156,000-square-foot building.

County officials, including Clerk of Court Donnie Spencer, helped make the case for a new courthouse during an Oct. 6 media tour. The event was aimed to spread the word about problems at the existing facility, which has housed the county courthouse since 1927.

First Judicial Circuit Judge John Miller also participated in the tour, which included 10 reporters, editors and photojournalists from local media outlets. Participants walked cramped corridors, stopped in a chilly 61-degree courtroom and explored other problematic areas before descending into the dark, underbelly of the structure to view leaning support beams for a 2009 modular addition.

Judge Miller says safety is the top concern. “It’s just patently and inherently unsafe,” said Miller. Although he praised court security staff, Miller noted judges, witnesses and juries must use the same corridors and waiting areas as defendants and their supporters.

During a stop in courtroom 213, Miller also pointed out the spot where a 2011 injury took place, resulting in an Americans with Disability Act (ADA) lawsuit settlement. Despite related ADA-compliance actions, a large portion of the east wing’s upper floor remains inaccessible for persons with certain handicaps.

In additional to safety and security concerns, there are other considerations, including a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the county entered into with the City of Milton to add a modular expansion.

The modular units house a courtroom and offices for the Clerk of Court. The MOU specified the units were temporary. That agreement expired in August 2012.

Hunter Walker, county administrator, said there are no plans in place for future use of the current courthouse should voters approve funding a new courthouse.

“I don’t know that the county would have any use for it,” said Walker. A separate MOU with the City of Milton specifies the municipality will get first right of refusal on the building, which some area nonprofits would like to see developed into a community center.

 

Some other issues at the courthouse include:

 

n concerns the modular addition will not withstand storm winds

n lack of storage resulting in oversized recycling bins being placed in congested hallways

n inefficient window air conditioner units in use throughout the building

n space heaters are sometimes utilized in certain areas of the courthouse

n water leaks cause problems in some areas

 

 

 

Click here to view a pictorial Navarre Press published in March: http://www.navarrepress.com/courthouse/courthouse.pdf

Read more in the Oct. 9 issue of Navarre Press or subscribe online here.

 

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