In July 9 IssueBy John ThompsonNews-Register Reporter
The Russell County Judicial Center is nearing completion five years after the project was first green lighted and nearly two years of construction.
A dedication ceremony has been set for Tuesday, September 27, 2011, giving the new occupants three weeks to get offices in order as the opening of the various courts and offices are set to begin operation there on September 6.
All courts and offices related to the courts, including the Circuit Court Clerk's Office, will be closed August 29 through September 3, according to Circuit Clerk Tony Kerr, so that the courts and offices can move to their new location.
Russell County received authorization to build the new Judicial Center in 2006 by the Kentucky General Assembly and funding for the project was approved in 2008.
Initially the building was projected to be a little less than 34,000 sq. ft., but eventually became a 44,500 sq. ft. project including basement area. The project began with an $11.62 million budget.
Our Judicial Center came about after the state budgeted financing for 18 new Judicial Centers throughout Kentucky in 2006. House Bill 380 authorized planning for the new judicial centers but did not fund the projects at the time, deferring funding for the projects until the 2008 General Assembly.
Once funding was secured the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) Department of Courts Facilities began working within our community and Judge Executive Mickey Garner to put together a Project Development Board (PDB) to insure that county and court officials be intimately involved in all aspects of the project, including decisions on the sight, architect and contractor.
Throughout the years of planning and continued decisions that had to be made during the center's construction the Project Development Board would oversee how funding was spent, resulting in a building one contract worker was overheard saying is "one of the best looking judicial centers in Kentucky; it's the prettiest one I've built."
By virtue of the office, the County Judge Executive Mickey Garner chaired the Board and was instrumental in the quality project. A major aspect Garner pushed for but was unable to secure was to have the county's new detention center be incorporated as a part of the judicial center itself.
Also serving on the board were Kevin Shearer acting as Vice Chair and AOC Representative, Chief Circuit Judge Vernon Miniard of the 57th Judicial Circuit, Chief District Judge James M. Lawson of the 40th Judicial District, Russell County Circuit Court Clerk Tony Kerr, Magistrate Jimmy McQueary as Fiscal Court Representative, Gail Wilson as Kentucky Bar Association Representative and Ronald Hopper as Citizen at Large. Danny Rhoades, while not officially a board member, was an important part of the board as he acted as Project Coordinator for AOC Division of Capital Construction.
Land for Russell County's new Detention Center was eventually purchased from the city of Russell Springs for one dollar. Located off Hwy 127 in the Middletown area, the 86 bed facility is located just behind the Senior Citizens Center and began housing prisoners in April of this year.
The new Judicial Center occupies the Northeastern end of the Jamestown Square, located on an area that once held Linda's Diner and the Jamestown City Hall. Then Jamestown Mayor Brooks Bates and sitting City Council accepted the $225,000 offer by the PDB for the City Hall building and property. A deal was also secured with Duo County to acquire a small section of land owned by the telephone company. The project would also take Pike Alley off the map of Jamestown.
Financing Agent responsible for bonding for the new center was contracted to the investment firm of Ross, Sinclair and Associates, with the architectural firm of Brandstetter Carroll Inc. drawing up the plans and Branscum-Pepper Construction winning the bid to build the center.
The 160 room Russell County Judicial Center is constructed with top quality materials. According to building Project Manager Larry McGowan, "In 30 years in the business this building has more stone in it than any other project I've been involved with. It's been meticulous work putting it all in here, just a tremendous amount of accurate cutting by hand," said McGowan, "I've never done a building that had this much actual limestone, and I think there's very few people probably that have."
Much of the "stone" look of other judicial centers being built is precast, stone-like material often of a fiberglass base. "People will pass by and they'll never realize that what they're looking at is actually rock mined out of the ground," McGowan said, "It's not something man made and poured, but actual limestone."
While using excellent building materials, the courthouse will still remain on or below the budget of $11.62 million. "We were very fortunate when we bid the project that many of the bids came in much lower than estimated or anticipated," said Circuit Clerk Tony Kerr, "Which allowed us to do a lot of the upgrades that otherwise we could not have afforded."
Four different courts will be served in the new judicial center: circuit court, district court, family court and the drug court, as well as the office of the Circuit Clerk and officers.
The new building incorporates either the latest technology, or the ability to upgrade as new technology emerges, including data recording and transfer, computer, video and networking technology. Video technology will allow a prisoner to appear before a judge for hearings without the risk of having to move the prisoner from the detention center to the courtroom.
When prisoners do have to appear in court, a dedicated entrance, elevator and passageways for prisoners and guards will be fully monitored and secured. Such "progress" will not escape the general public either, as there will be only a single-point entry for the public, complete with magnetometers (metal detectors) and security personnel. Access to Circuit Clerk Court personnel will be similarly restricted as we will now conduct business with them through bullet proof glass.
Exact protocol has not been laid out to the public as to prohibition or acceptance of materials and personal devices upon entrance to the judicial center.
While the county will be gaining a beautiful new judicial center, it will also be losing out on current revenues generated through the renting of space in the current Russell County Courthouse. The courts, and all offices related to the courts currently occupy and pay rent on 63 percent of the total square footage, and with the moving to new facilities will lose the county something less than $80,000 a year.
The Dedication Ceremony slated for Tuesday, September 7, 2011, at 1 p.m. will have speaking dignitaries former Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, 1998 - 2008, who was instrumental in implementing many improvements in the Kentucky court system during his tenure, and was a strong advocate for the new judicial centers appearing throughout the state. Current Chief Justice John D. Minton will also be speaking as well as others to be announced.