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Public weighs in on new courthouse for Morgan County

January 24, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Some Morgan County residents want their new courthouse to be "green," but they hope the exterior bricks will remain yellow like the ones in the building that burned in August.

A clock tower seemed to be a must, and many residents who gathered in the Berkeley Springs High School auditorium Tuesday night to share their opinions about the new building with county commissioners and the architect wanted parking plans to jibe with the county seat - formally known as the Town of Bath.

"The aesthetics affect how the people feel about the place," said John Petersen, who encouraged county leaders to construct a building of which residents can be proud. "It's important it has a landmark kind of status."

Carol Breeden wanted the architect to consider having the building set back farther from U.S. 522 to accommodate a tree and some benches, but also factor in an apparent need to address storm water flooding concerns and possibly a parking garage.

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The county courthouse and its surrounding buildings were destroyed in an Aug. 8, 2006, fire.

Recalling the disruptive sounds of trucks traveling on U.S. 522 during court proceedings, attorney William "Bill" Carey emphasized a need to soundproof the courtroom, and suggested it be large enough to host community meetings.

Carey described Berkeley County's new judicial center as a "security nightmare" for the public and legal professionals, and received assurances from commission President Glen R. Stotler that Morgan County's building security would be reasonable.

"It was like trying to get in Fort Knox," Stotler said of an experience he had at the judicial center in Martinsburg.

Concerned about the estimated $11 million cost for a 33,000-square-foot facility, Dawn White suggested that not all of the project be built at once, considering the new building is expected to be designed to accommodate future growth.

"I think we really have to look at the financials and keep those in check," White said.

Stotler said after the meeting that county leaders still needed at least $7 million, if not $8 million, to build the new courthouse.

Mauricio Medina, Charles Biggs and Sharon Tebben each suggested the architect consider various measures to make the building energy-efficient and still attractive.

"This is by far the most beautiful town I've ever lived in," said Medina, who suggested federal resources offered by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Biggs was more specific, recommending the building be outfitted with solar energy collectors and windows to maximize sunlight in place of lights, and still allow for the panes to be opened for natural air conditioning.

Tebben said officials should explore the possibility of tapping into the town's thermal springs to save energy, but still believed the exterior should resemble the old courthouse.

Jeanne Mozier praised county leaders for their work and decision to keep the courthouse in downtown Berkeley Springs, and noted the new building presented an opportunity to improve on the third building, which was built in 1908.

"Hopefully, we will not let money limit us," Mozier said.

Promising to hold as many public meetings as possible, Stotler told those gathered that another input session would be held in about four weeks to review possible design options and floor plans for the new courthouse.

The architect, Thomas M. Potts of Charleston, W.Va.-based Silling Associates Inc., told those gathered that designs for the project would be published on the firm's Web site - www.silling.com - and that comments may be e-mailed to architects@silling.com.




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The issue: Morgan County officials are working on plans to rebuild the circa-1908 county courthouse that was destroyed by fire on Aug. 8. An architectural firm hired by the county estimated earlier this month that rebuilding the courthouse would cost about $11 million, of which only about $3.5 million would be covered by insurance.

What's new: The Morgan County Commission heard from the public Tuesday night on what they would like to see in the new courthouse, including ideas for parking, appearance, energy efficiency and paying for the reconstruction.

What's next: County officials plan to hold another meeting in about four weeks to review preliminary floor plans and the public comments gathered at Tuesday's meeting.

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