Supes approve Justice Center security measures

Staff Writer

It only took Clay County supervisors a few days to realize a list of add-ons to the county’s almost-finished Justice Center are necessary.

Supervisors Monday unanimously approved the $276,652 in projects, most of which deal with safety and security for the building, and residents and workers using it. The biggest chunk is $216,251 for enhanced video and audio equipment for the building’s three courtrooms.
That expense was the most discussed when architect Roger Pryor presented it last week following a series of meetings with judges, law enforcement and lawyers.

“We went over it in detail and there’s really nothing in that to reduce. One of the best things about it is the flexibility it provides to upgrade or or improve as technology changes,” Chancery Clerk Amy Berry told supervisors.

“We try to cut and save everything we can for the taxpayers, but when it comes to safety of the public, saving a couple of thousand dollars isn’t worth it when it might cause a risk,” Board President R.B. Davis said.

Crews with Benchmark Construction had been on hold for some interior work for a few days while the supervisors studied the list of projects. That work resumed in earnest Monday with a goal of having the building completed by the end of May.

The list of change orders is varied but mostly involves safety and security.

The big-ticket item involves knocking out some concrete, installing extensive conduit and connection boxes as well as video and audio equipment. The system would not only allow video arraignments and hearings for inmates but also would be specialized enough to allow judges to view evidence first before releasing it to be seen by a jury or lawyers.

The judges’ benches, witness stand, attorneys tables, court reporter table and others would have computer monitors. The courtrooms also will be equipped with large screen monitors so juries or large numbers of people can see presentations.

The system would be installed so as technology changes, upgrades can be done easily without having to tear up the building’s concrete floors or walls.

Other change items include $19,183 for a secure “blind” entrance for the judges as well as $3,367 for battery-powered keypad entrances to their offices.

The parking and entrance will be inside a screened, fenced area on the building’s northeast corner.

Another $15,833 is penciled in for two metal detectors in the hallways leading to the two Circuit Court and one Justice Court courtroom. The building has detectors at its main entrances, but the additional ones are needed to keep people with conceal and carry gun permits from taking their guns into the courtrooms.

State law allows those weapons to be inside the courthouse but not the courtrooms.

The list also includes $2,056 to put windows in the three holding-cell doors so jailers and others can see what is happening inside the cells without having to put video cameras in them and $1,486 for control stations to the overhead doors in and out of the inmate intake area so guards in other areas can control the opening and closing of the doors.

Another $6,479 is included to repour concrete to improve drainage in the building’s expansive parking lot, $3,154 to paint the outside of the metal portion of the building and $7,899 to paint the inside of that same area.

The changes will be paid from a $520,000 reserve fund the supervisors have been setting aside — $260,000 last year and $260,000 this year — for changes to the Justice Center and modifications to the existing courthouse and Justice Court building once the new Justice Center opens.

The county purchased the former Jitney Jungle/Pass It On building last year and are converting it into a Justice Center to house Circuit and Justice courts and related offices.

Since construction started early last summer, the county has made nine payments totaling $2,112,983, from the proceeds of almost $4 million in certificates of participation issued last year to finance the project. The county won’t actually have to start paying back those notes for several more months.

Construction on the $2,871,000 project is expected to be completed by May. The rest of the bond proceeds are paying for the 2.3-acre site on Main Street, architect fees and other expenses.

Supervisors spent more than two years studying options and financing before formally purchasing the 26,500-square-foot building from the Regional Mental Health Foundation last April. Pryor and county leaders spent months developing plans to renovate about 20,000-square-feet into three courtrooms and related offices and security facilities.

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.

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.