Justice Center a 'bargain' for county, club told

A construction worker cuts tile for the new Justice Center. Flooring and ceilings as well as fixtures are the next phase of the project.
Staff Writer

The new Clay County Justice Center is on schedule to be completed in May, “on time and on budget,” and will be a “pride and joy” for the county for many years.

But potential traffic problems associated with the center’s location on busy Main Street may have to be addressed, an architect and county officials told a Clay County civic group Thursday.

“This is a really good value for the people of Clay County, a bargain,” architect Roger Pryor, of Pryor and Morrow architects, told the West Point Rotary Club.

He said by renovating an existing building, the county is getting space that will meet its needs for years at a cost of $104 a square foot while building the same space from scratch would have cost $315 a square foot.

“It’s the difference between a project with a $2,871,000 contract price versus building the same thing at a cost of about $5,819,000,” he said.

The county Board of Supervisors spent more than two years studying options and financing before formally purchasing the 26,500-square-foot old Jitney Jungle/Pass It On building from the Regional Mental Health Foundation last April.

Supervisors, Morrow and county leaders had spent months developing plans to renovate about 20,000-square-feet into three courtrooms and related offices and security facilities for Circuit Court and Justice Court.

“We only had one courtroom with a jury box, people were all over each other when court was in session, there was limited parking and people who were trying to come in and do their regular business like get license plates couldn’t … we just had to do something,” Supervisor Luke Lummus said of why supervisors made the decision.
The project will meet the county’s needs for years and has space for future expansion. The current courthouse will be used by Chancery and Youth courts, as it is now. The Tax Assessor also will remain there.

The financial portions of Chancery Court and supervisors will likely move upstairs, Chancery Clerk Amy Berry said.

The county financed a total $4,015,000 for 20 years through a lease-purchase agreement with the tax-exempt construction arm of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District. The financing is covered with the county’s existing tax rates and county leaders hope to pay off the certificates of participation within 15 years, Berry said.

“The supervisors were able to meet a need without a burden on the people of Clay County,” Berry said.

Benchmark Construction, using 69 percent of subcontractors from within 40 miles of West Point and 19 percent minority contractors, started work last May and will be finished by this May. The design includes energy and environmental efficiencies as well as safety features for the courts and related offices. Those included security doors and cameras, dedicated parking and other features.

Renasant Bank President Perry Green asked about traffic considerations, noting Friday afternoon traffic along that stretch of Main Street can be “impossible.”

He noted traffic often backs up at a traffic signal at Main and West Broad Street Extended. Heavy traffic from days in court or the court complex late in the afternoons could make that worse.

“That’s a good point,” Morrow said, noting the issue has not been addressed.

“It’s something we’ll have to talk to the sheriff about,” Berry said.

“And we need to talk to the state about some options,” added West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson, who is a Rotary member and attended the meeting.

One option may be providing rear connectors from the site to link it with the West Broad Extended signal or to North Division Street.