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Grand opening scheduled for first phase of Judicial Center

August 11, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The grand opening ceremony for the first phase of the Berkeley County Judicial Center is slated for early October, but conceptual designs for the second phase unveiled Thursday are not expected to become reality until early 2009, County Commission President Howard L. Strauss said.

The projected date for completing the transformation of the former Blue Ridge Outlets' Crawford Building off West Stephen Street into three courtrooms, storage space and offices for additional magistrate and circuit court judges in 2009 would coincide with the realignment of the 23rd Judicial Circuit, Strauss said.

That redistricting process is anticipated to bring about the hiring of additional judges for the circuit, which includes all of Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

The grand opening ceremony for the first phase is scheduled for Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. The event will celebrate the consolidation of magistrate, circuit and family courts, and probation and county prosecutor offices into the Berkeley Building of the former shopping center complex.

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Strauss asked court officials Thursday to consider closing their offices for one hour to allow all staff to be at the grand opening, which is expected to include comments by at least two justices on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

The Berkeley Building is expected to be substantially completed by Sept. 30, and the actual relocation of offices is expected to begin in earnest the week of Oct. 16, Strauss said.

Matthew Hjermstad, a senior associate with DMJM Design, the consulting firm for the judicial center project, updated the commissioners and Judges Christopher C. Wilkes and David H. Sanders on the intricacies of the project's status Thursday before delving into concepts envisioned for the second phase of the center.

That portion of work includes three courtrooms on the Crawford Building's second floor, Hjermstad said. A large "ceremonial" courtroom included in the preliminary concept could provide enough space for the state's high court to hold hearings there, Strauss said.

Strauss also said the courtroom could be used for community events of significant interest and nighttime commission meetings.

The plans include a second connecting bridge between the Berkeley and Crawford buildings that would be used by the public. The use of an existing bridge is expected to be exclusive to staff, as is a courtyard area now between the buildings.

Strauss is proposing that county leaders move ahead with a plan to issue bonds to pay for engineering, design expenses and other preconstruction costs for the Crawford Building. A second bond issue would pay for actual construction costs for the second phase, he said.

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