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Judicial/government complex considered

January 05, 2001

Judicial/government complex considered



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Work began Thursday on planning for a possible new $25 million Berkeley County judicial and government complex and parking facility on King Street.

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The Berkeley County Commission agreed with a request by county Facilities Manager Walt Davis to put together a list of people for a committee to discuss how to make the ideal a reality.

Davis said the committee probably would include 10 people, citizens, staff people such as himself and county elected officials. He estimated the cost of a new facility at about $25 million, which includes a 400-car parking deck and enough room for the county to grow for 10 years. He said he knows the task will be difficult.

"I'd like to have a new building in two years, but I know that won't happen," he said.

Commissioner Robert Burkhart favors the idea, but said it could be a tough sell to the public, especially if it involves tax increases. It's as yet unclear whether any increase would be needed. Burkhart noted county voters just turned down a three-year tax increase for parks and recreation improvements.

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"It's going to have to be done in such a way that you save money and don't increase taxes," he said. "You have to do it wisely. The public wants nice facilities, but they don't want to pay for them."

The prime motivation for construction would be consolidation of all judicial functions into one secure building. But Davis said elected officials should be housed there and it should be both a judicial center and administrative building. Judicial activities currently are spread over six buildings, with administrative functions housed in other buildings, one of which has an air problem and may be demolished.

"It's costing us to not have one facility," said Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes, who had just spoken to the commissioners about paying for technology upgrades in the various court facilities.

Earlier in the meeting, Sheriff Randy Smith persuaded the commissioners to upgrade security at Magistrate Court by putting in a new metal detector.

Those pushing the idea of a new judicial center said the county could save money by combining all the security equipment and facilities into one building.

"I know it's a huge expense, but we're being nickeled and dimed to death" by making patchwork fixes to the numerous judicial buildings, Strauss said.

"I've been trying to do this for 30 years,' said Burkhart, who first came on the Commission in 1962 and spent eight years as Circuit Court clerk.

He said he believes the only way to pay for the building would be to have a developer build it, then lease it to the county.

"That's what they did in Jefferson County," Wilkes said.

Strauss said he's had one discussion with a builder about the subject.

Wilkes said safety is a top priority for the new building.

"The big concern is just society as a whole," Wilkes said. "In any branch of government, you really just put yourself on the front line."

Davis will report back to the commissioners next week with the list of possible committee members.

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