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$17 million contract OK'd for judicial center

May 28, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

With the same old plaques hanging on the same old wood-paneled walls, Thursday's Berkeley County Commission meeting seemed no different than any other.

The commissioners, however, thought differently when they signed a $17 million contract for construction at an old warehouse/outlet shopping mall that one day will house a comprehensive county judicial center.

"This is a great day for Berkeley County, the citizens of Berkeley County," Commission President Steve Teufel said.

Construction at the Berkeley Building, an old warehouse that most recently was part of the former Blue Ridge Outlet Center, is expected to begin in July. It should be finished in the summer of 2006, Commissioner Howard Strauss said.

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The contract was awarded to Chambersburg, Pa.-based Brechbill & Helman Construction Co. Inc.

Work includes constructing a new building in the center of the existing one, each floor of which will be renovated, Strauss said. The new building will include courtrooms while space on the perimeter will house offices, Strauss said.

Currently the center of the building is an open space.

Once finished, the center will house Circuit Court, Magistrate Court, offices of the county's prosecuting attorney, Circuit Clerk offices, Family Court and the probation department. Those offices and courtrooms now are scattered among five buildings, with each of the county's three Circuit judges holding court in a different building.

Consolidation was one of the main reasons the county 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.

Construction will be financed using 30-year general obligation bonds, which will then be paid for by using the county's general revenue sources, Strauss said.

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has sent a letter to the head of the Appropriations Committee to try to find more funding for the project, Teufel said.

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

The hearing rooms will be a far cry from what is now in place in some facilities. In Magistrate Court, a turn-of-the-century former school, cramped quarters mean attorneys sometimes must meet with their clients in open hallways or dark closets. Air conditioners must be turned off or court proceedings cannot be heard and employees do not have private restrooms.

With the exception of the historic county courthouse, all of the other buildings that now contain judicial facilities will be sold after the judicial center opens, Strauss said.

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