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Martinsburg officials want court proceedings under one roof

October 21, 2000

Martinsburg officials want court proceedings under one roof



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - With county law enforcement and judicial offices scattered throughout the city, county officials and others are trying to determine the best way to combine them in a single building.

County Commissioner John Wright said last week he will propose a plan in January pushing for a single judicial building, probably across Queen Street from the county courthouse complex.

"We've got to get our judicial people under one roof," Wright said at the courthouse on King and Queen streets. "People think this is City Hall. They come in here asking where the Circuit Court clerk is. Where is the prosecuting attorney? It is confusing to an out-of-towner."

"We've tried to get a judicial building for 20 years," said Commissioner Robert Burkhart. "The question has always been, 'Where does the money come from?' I think it's time to look at it again with a different option."

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Burkhart and Wright will remain on the commission after the Nov. 7 election. Either Howard Strauss or Butch Pennington will replace D. Wayne Dunham, who is retiring. Strauss and Pennington support the idea.

"The need to have a new center for all judicial proceedings would be a great advantage," Strauss said. "People are going to different courtrooms. It's very confusing.

"I don't think the public is very well served. And then there's the question of security."

"It's a great idea and it's long overdue," Pennington said. "We need to turn the old courthouse into a museum and tear down the Magistrate Court before somebody gets hurt there. We need to build a multi-story judicial building and county offices together."

Sheriff Ronald Jones said courtrooms are so spread out it's difficult to find the officers to provide adequate security when people charged with serious crimes are being moved.

"It's a very volatile situation," he said.

Two circuit courts are in two different buildings, one of which houses the Circuit Court Clerk. The prosecuting attorney and Family Law Master are in another building.

Magistrate Court is in an old and crowded building. The Sheriff's Office is located in another building.

"We don't have a courthouse, we have a campus," Burkhart said.

The county owns most of the block across from the courthouse. The two commissioners and Pennington believe that's where a new building should go.

"It's right in the center of town," Burkhart said. "If you take the government buildings out of the center of Martinsburg and take a look at what you've got - you'd just have more empty buildings."

Jones said the county owns property on the outskirts of Martinsburg that could be used. Strauss said he thinks the county should take its time, looking at all options and costs.

Burkhart and Wright estimate the cost at between $15 and $20 million. Wright said the county might need to provide a parking garage as part of the complex.

A county building commission could issue bonds. But Burkhart said a private builder could build a facility, then lease it to the city on a lease-purchase arrangement.

Strauss thinks any plan should got to a public vote.

"When you're looking at spending millions and millions of taxpayer dollars, I'm of the opinion it needs taxpayer approval - it needs voter approval," he said.

Pennington said, "The only reason we haven't gotten one so far is poor planning. We shouldn't have put money into those old buildings. If we scrimp and save and act prudently, we can do this in the near future."

Wright said he will propose his building plan as part of an overall set of changes to county operations.

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