Historic Moore County Courthouse

The historic county courthouse is reflected in the mirror of a vehicle on Dowd Street. (Photograph by Jaymie Baxley/The Pilot)

Moore County’s new courthouse needs about 120,000 square feet of space, an amount that would require four stories to keep it on its existing proposed site.

County commissioners reviewed preliminary plans for the new facility during a daylong work session last week.

“This is the building that is going to be needed for this type of space,” Capital Projects Director Rich Smith told the commissioners.

The county hired Moseley Architects last November to design a new courthouse that will tie into the existing facility, which will be renovated as part of the project.

Officials want to close one block of Dowd Street from Saunders Street to the circle around the Historic Courthouse to better accommodate the new structure.

The final design will dictate the actual cost, as well as the architect fees. County Manager Wayne Vest said the county used an estimated cost of $30 million for the new construction and $3 million for the renovations in order to determine architect fees, which are based on a percentage of the construction costs.

County Manager Wayne Vest said the county and its financial advisers have identified funding for the project, primarily from the savings from paying off debt on the $32 million public safety center. He said the actual cost will not be known until the county seeks construction bids.

Smith said closing one block of Dowd Street would provide a little more space to allow for a better design.That has prompted a traffic study to determine the impact of closing a section of Dowd, which has been a big concern for Carthage town leaders.

Results of the traffic study are expected in just over a month. County and Carthage leaders will then meet again to decide on the best way to move forward.

Smith said Jason Hopkins, the lead architect, first met with officials from all of the agencies and departments that will be in the new courthouse to determine their space needs.

Under preliminary plans Hopkins reviewed with the commissioners, the new building will have a partial basement with 20 parking spaces for judges and other court officials in a secure area, as well as the mechanical and electrical rooms.

The first floor would be mostly for the clerk of court’s offices, which Hopkins said has the most “interaction with the public, as well as lobby and space for Guardian Ad Litem and Juvenile Services.

The second floor would be for Superior Court. It would have a larger courtroom that would seat 200-225 people and another with 100-125 seats.

Hopkins said there would be a shared “central core” between the two to serve both.

The third level would have the same layout for District Court, with similarly sized courtrooms.

Hopkins said the fourth floor would have a little less floor space and would have two smaller, non-jury courtrooms.

The existing Courts Facility, which opened in 1979, has 47,000 square feet of space.

“The building is in great shape,” Hopkins said.

Currently, probation and parole offices take up part of the basement area, along with offices for the criminal courts division and storage for the clerk of court office.

Hopkins said probation and parole, which needs twice the amount of space it has now, would take over the entire basement. He said that would meet its space needs and allow for room to expand in the future.

The ground floor will become the new home for the district attorney’s offices.There will also be a large, shared conference or training room that could be used by a number of agencies, he said.

The second level, which is now where the District and Superior courtrooms are located, would be used for the grand jury and jury assembly.

“We want to do the least amount of renovation possible,” Hopkins said.

He said the space would also include rooms for mediation and for attorneys to use.

One of the challenges in connecting new and existing facilities will be to make them look similar. Hopkins said the existing Courts Facility “kind of looks like it just landed on the site there.”

“If the budget will support it, we want to do something to the exterior of the existing courthouse so it doesn’t look like two buildings kind of mashed together and looks like one building,” Hopkins said. “Because functionally, we hope it operates as one building.”

Initially, the county had planned to build the new courthouse on the other side of Saunders Street on the site of the old jail, which would put it next to the Rick Rhyne Public Safety Center and detention center.

But county officials were forced to rethink those plans after learning last March that the Sheriff’s Office needs to use part of the old jail for adult female inmates to free up space in the detention center to meet new state requirements that will require housing more juveniles.

Hopkins said as they began designing something that would fit on the space between the existing Courts Facility and Saunders Street, they realized that closing one block of Dowd Street would provide more room to improve the design of the new courthouse.

He said pushing the building so close to the property line would complicate the work needed on the basement, which in turn would increase the costs.

He said another benefit would be allowing for a somewhat larger lobby area, where people entering the new facility have to pass through security screening.

Hopkins said from a “visual perspective, it would allow for a better unification of all the court facilities” and create a public plaza between the two court facilities and the Register of Deeds office on the other side of Dowd Street.

“We haven’t nailed down the final look,” he said of the overall design.

Hopkins pointed out that Dowd Street will have to be closed for two years during construction.

He said they understand Carthage’s concerns about closing that one block. He said “instead of guessing” what the impact would be, the county decided to conduct a traffic study to see what effect it would have on the surrounding intersections.

Smith said once the decision is made on whether or not to close Dowd Street, Moseley can complete the final design.

“We want the building to look nice,” Commissioner Louis Gregory said. “But more important is to be able to stress to the public why we are doing this, to improve security and safety.”

The county has been under increasing pressure from the judicial system for more than six years to build a new courthouse. The most recent grand jury report done in December 2015 said the current facility is not adequate and actually poses security and safety “hazards.”

A previous board committed in 2016 to Emergency Superior Court Judge Michael Beale that the county would have a new courthouse built within five years. The judge has been assigned by the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court to monitor the county’s progress in addressing the needs of the judicial system.

Commissioner Catherine Graham, who is a former clerk of court, said the needs of the judicial system “will only increase.”

“Instead of needing less facility, we will need more,” she said. “It is hard sometimes to explain that to the public.”

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

“The final design will dictate the actual cost, as well as the architect fees.“. Can you spell EXPENSIVE ? This is bass ackwards - we should tell the architect and the builder the cost we can afford and they show us what that will buy us. Make them include an option for a courthouse that will cost 10% less than the budgeted amount. In either case tell them no cost overruns will be accepted. Every dollar under budget they can keep 50%. Give them a bonus for each day ahead of schedule the COO is issued. Look at pre-engineered buildings and cut out the frills.

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