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September 28, 2023

County planning for potential new courthouse

COURTHOUSE COMMITTEE MEETS — Stakeholders review design elements with lead Architect Victor Jones (Jenkins-Peer Architects) and court planning specialist Stacey Wiseman (TreanorHL). Shown above, from the left: Clerk of Court Edwin Chapman, local attorney Kevin Beale, County Attorney Ben Faulkenberry, Sheriff Chad Pennell (seated), County Manager Shane Fox, County Facilities Director Josh Mitchell, Pretrial Release Director Anita Price, Assistant District Attorney Courtney Marlowe, and others discuss space needs and design elements during the visioning session.

Alexander County is taking preliminary steps toward planning for a potential new courthouse facility, according to a news release. The county has contracted with the firm of Jenkins-Peer Architects, located in Charlotte, to provide programming, planning, and conceptual design services for a new courthouse in Alexander County. The new facility, if constructed, would replace the current courthouse which was built after the prior courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1967.

To facilitate the process, the Alexander County Courthouse Committee, architects, and stakeholders participated in a visioning forum on August 8-10.

County officials have cited numerous deficiencies in courtroom space and design, lack of proper jury facilities, and inadequate office space for court officials as some of the factors driving the decision to move forward with exploring the feasibility of constructing a new courthouse.

The current actions being taken by the Alexander County Board of Commissioners will provide the preliminary design concept and cost estimate necessary for the board to make the most informed decision on whether to move forward with construction.

Marty Pennell, Chairman of the Alexander County Board of Commissioners, said that he plans to petition the state for funding if a new courthouse is going to be constructed.

“The construction of a new courthouse in Alexander County is a large and costly undertaking which neither I, nor the other members of the board, take lightly. We are entrusted by the citizens of Alexander County to oversee the expenditure of public dollars in a fiscally responsible manner and for purposes which will serve the needs of all citizens in the most efficient way possible,” said Pennell. “A courthouse serves the needs of many citizens outside of the traditional function as a venue for court proceedings. The desire of this board is to ensure that if a new courthouse is built, it will be a resource which adequately serves all users of the facility for many decades to come.”

The initial step in the programming and concept design process is to evaluate the needs of all courthouse users. On August 8, that process began as staff hosted a visioning session which kicked off a two-and a-half day planning and information gathering process.

During the visioning session, the architects and county staff met with a large group of stakeholders to gather input on a broad range of topics including overall space needs, adjacency diagrams for interconnected spaces, security and access control concerns, and initial design features. The visioning session then led into numerous meetings with specific user groups over the course of the next two days where more in-depth discussions were held to fully explore needs specific to those spaces and users.

The results of these meetings will be compiled and analyzed by the architectural firm which will present its findings to the Courthouse Committee for review and discussion. Work sessions between the committee and Jenkins-Peer Architects are expected to continue until sometime in December when a finalized scope and opinion of probable cost will be presented to the Alexander County Board of Commissioners.

Alexander County Manager Shane Fox commented on the courthouse planning process.

“The construction of a courthouse, or any large public building for that matter, is a major undertaking. A project of this magnitude should yield a building that will not only meet our current needs, but also our needs for the foreseeable future,” Fox said. “We currently have a number of services and agencies housed in offsite locations due to space constraints in the current courthouse. One goal of this project will be to bring those back under one roof where they can best function together.”

County Manager Fox also commented on the initial plan to design the new courthouse so that it integrates with the footprint of the current building, citing the importance of leveraging the downtown site as a focal point and anchor.

“The courthouse committee members had explored several site options with the architect prior to my arrival in Alexander County,” Fox said. “The decision to focus on the site of the current courthouse stems from consideration of how it can integrate well with Alexander County Courthouse Park, which sits adjacent to the current building, as well as its potential as a catalyst for sparking revitalization of the surrounding downtown area.”

Courthouse committee members worked with Jenkins-Peer Architects early on to explore how the new building could be constructed on the existing site while still maintaining full operation of the current facility.

“The project is still in its very early stages, and it will take a lot of planning and discussion to move toward any possibility of construction, but without taking this initial first step, it is difficult to ensure that the proper due diligence has been performed,” Fox stated.

Chairman Pennell added, “There are many needs and wants which have been expressed to commissioners by our citizens. The need for a new courthouse is undeniable but must also be balanced with other areas of need this county faces. The decision to move forward on construction will certainly warrant further discussion by the board once we have all the facts presented to us as a result of this programming process.”

County staff expect to have the results of the programming process ready for review as early as January 2024. Additional information about the project will be shared as it becomes available.

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