Nearly $30,000 will be spent on architectural services to determine the feasibility of connecting two Sampson County courthouse buildings, with the ultimate effort to save money down the line in tightening security for local court facilities.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners approved spending $28,500 from the board’s contingency to hire RATIO Architects Inc. to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study to explore options for providing an at-grade, all-weather building connector between the courthouse and the extension building in downtown Clinton, and present designs for consideration.
”That ($28,500) is a little bit steep from my perspective,” said Commissioner Albert Kirby. “I know we need to get moving along. I don’t want to get bogged down in this process. We need to get it taken care of. Well, maybe it’s not steep. Do you think $28,500 is reasonable?”
County manager Ed Causey said he did feel it was reasonable. Two alternate designs would be prepared, in addition to the cost estimate, he said.
The study will include site assessment, building code analysis and up to two design concepts. A budget has not been established for the actual construction. Causey noted the familiarity of people who have worked previously with the county, including RATIO architect Sharon Crawford, which also worked in favor of the proposal.
“Once I started thinking about that, I thought the price was much more reasonable than what we thought,” the county manager said. “There are a number of good architects out there. This individual has been pretty adept at working with Sampson County people. Ms. Crawford worked with Cherry Huffman and they did a lot of the building improvements (for the county). They seemed to be particularly good at working with a variety of people and trying to bring those interests together.”
Similarly, courthouse security also has a number of people with a vested interest in it.
In March, Causey and Kirby met at the courthouse with Clerk of Court Norman Wayne Naylor, District Attorney Ernie Lee, and Sheriff’s Office representatives, including Chief Bailiff Sgt. Vernon Huffman, as well as local facility experts including Public Works Director Lee Cannady and local fire and building inspectors.
The group discussed the possibility of connecting the two court buildings, as well as concerns related to judge parking, movement of prisoners, traffic flow, the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and code restrictions.
The issue of courthouse security has been discussed for years. In an answer to concerns from local judicial officials, a security assessment by the U.S. Marshal’s Service identified critical areas of concern and possible solutions. A courthouse security team, co-chaired by Sheriff Jimmy Thornton and Causey, was formed at the end of 2010 to identify suitable, cost-effective solutions of making the main courthouse, the courthouse extension and the courthouse annex safer.
The possibility of building connectivity was broached by commissioners earlier this year as a way to circumvent numerous entrances into multiple courts and minimalize manpower to secure those accessways.
The courthouse, at three stories high and approximately 40,000 square feet, was constructed in 1904 and renovated in the 1950s. The extension building is a two-story building that is about 8,700 square feet built in 1950 and completely renovated in 2004.
Last month, commissioners directed staff to obtain a proposal for architectural services to determine the feasibility of connecting the two court buildings, in an effort to reduce the cost for courthouse security improvements. RATIO Architects Inc. provided that proposal, which the board unanimously accepted Monday.
“This gives you the feasibility, but does not get into the specific security requirements of what else you might want to consider in the building,” said Causey. “What we tried to do is focus in as much as we can on the feasibility and connectivity of the two buildings and provide for the flows, as well as understand any design issues or any code impacts or other impacts connecting the two buildings would encompass.”
Kirby said the situation presents a double-edged sword — safety and security measures that have been discussed for years and are needed, but it would bring a punch in the fiscal gut to approve $30,000 amid a tight budget, especially when the feasibility study will essentially show how much more needs to be spent for the actual work, the commissioner said.
“We most certainly need to move forward,” said Kirby. “The only issue that really concerns — this is the 800-pound gorilla in the room — is the half a million dollar (budget) shortfall before we even hear from the different department heads. It’s quite daunting, the thought of not having competition with the respect to the nuts and bolts of what is going on, but if you’re satisfied with it, I’m satisfied with it.”
“I would recommend we move forward,” Causey replied.
Along with the feasibility study and all it encompasses, RATIO said there would also be four programming meetings with all the main stakeholders, including the county manager, Public Works, Clerk of Court, bailiffs and the district attorney.
“RATIO will meet with key individuals to determine building flow and function as it relates to the movement of county staff, the general public and prisoner,” the company stated in its proposal. “We understand the goal of the study is to provide one point of entry into the two buildings. Other required exits would be secured and badge accessible.”
Commissioners said they were in favor of moving forward.
“Courthouse security has been an issue now for quite a while. I agree that spending $28,500 is a lot of money. I’m like you, I don’t like to spend that kind of money,” board chairman Billy Lockamy told Kirby, “but with the severity of it, we know we have a liability there. I’m in favor of moving along with it.”
Kirby said he agreed. Commissioner Jefferson Strickland asked whether Causey felt it was a “fair and honest price.” Causey said it was. Strickland made a motion to proceed, seconded by Commissioner Harry Parker. The vote was unanimous.
The feasibilty study is expected to take three months to complete.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.