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County moves forward on judicial center in Martinsburg

December 19, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Commission members signed paperwork Thursday that will allow them to move forward with construction of a planned judicial center.

The center, which would be completed in 2006, would house Circuit Court, Magistrate Court, Family Court, the prosecuting attorney's offices, court clerk's offices and the probation department. Those offices currently are scattered among five buildings.

The four-story judicial center will be in the Berkeley Building - one of three old warehouses off Raleigh Street that formerly was part of the Blue Ridge Outlet Center.

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At their meeting, commissioners signed all the paperwork needed to approve the funding - $9.995 million in bonds sold to 10 banks and 15 individuals. All but $2 million worth of bonds has been sold, said Gregory Isaacs of the Charleston, W.Va., office of Crews & Associates.

Once all the bonds are sold, the county's general revenue stream will be used to pay them off over a 30-year period, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said.

With financing in hand, the county can move forward with construction. Selective demolition is under way and expected to finish soon, County Commission President Howard Strauss said.

For the construction, bids will be sought starting Jan. 8 and awarded in March. Construction is expected to begin in June and the building should open its doors to the public in June 2006, Strauss said.

Sketches of the judicial center displayed during the meeting show a building with a new glass facade, numerous courtrooms, witness rooms and offices - far different from the county's current cramped court facilities.

In Magistrate Court, housed in a former school on John Street, dark closets are used for meeting rooms. Those on opposite sides of a case must sit together in the hallway, sometimes just a few feet apart.

A block away in Circuit Judge David Sanders' courtroom, leaks in the roof plagued the building and, earlier this week, those in attendance had to keep their coats on because no heat was present.

Large cracks in the floor have been cause for concern in the Spring Street building that houses Family Court and the prosecutor's offices.

Each of the three Circuit Court judges who handles county cases holds court in a different building.

Consolidation was one of the main reasons county officials bought the former outlet mall and 400 parking spaces in May 2002 for $3.8 million. Another 111 nearby spaces were purchased separately at auction.

Because commissioners cannot encumber future commissions with long-term debt, the county's Building Commission will actually own the judicial center and lease it, Strauss said.

Building Commission member Ron Collins recommended that all of the county's current buildings, with the exception of the historic courthouse and the two-building complex across from Martinsburg High School, be sold once the judicial center is finished. Proceeds from the sales could be used to help pay off the bonds, he said. Keeping the old buildings is unnecessary, especially given the expenses incurred and deterioration, he said.

Overall, the 122,606-square-foot judicial center will contain nine courtrooms and seven hearing rooms, according to information from the design firm DMJM.

Other features include separate entrances and bathrooms for employees and separate inmate holding cells for men, women and juveniles, who are required to be kept apart.

Jail inmates will be taken to an enclosed vehicular port and then will walk through a secure, private door.

Employees within the judicial system were consulted and provided feedback about the design, Strauss said.

"It's just tremendous," Strauss said of the combined efforts put into the judicial center.

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