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Officials eye Franklin County courthouse expansion or relocation

June 20, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Franklin County Commissioners and representatives of the county's judicial system on Thursday affirmed a commitment to addressing courthouse facilities needs, which include space constraints anticipated with the addition of a fifth judge in 2010.

"This building is 30 years old and has been well-maintained and has served liberty and justice well," Judge Douglas Herman said.

Herman and his colleagues cited an increased caseload, the pending appointment of a fifth judge, and post-Sept. 11 security requirements as reasons to explore adapting or moving the facility.

Commissioner Bob Thomas said the county entered into an approximately $100,000 contract with Carter Goble and Lee (GBL) to identify efficiencies and needs at the U.S. 30 courthouse, which has four courtrooms. All possibilities remain on the table, including expansion, relocation or shifting schedules, Thomas said.

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Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski referred to the project as one that is "going to be millions and millions of dollars."

"It is critical that something of this nature involve the community, that all the stakeholders are at the table," Thomas said.

Documents distributed to the Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB) stated that 561 criminal cases were docketed in 1980, now up to about 2,300 per year. Members of CJAB identified facilities planning as the No. 1 priority for the next three-year strategic plan.

The matter of the additional judge is part of legislation pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

"The county trial court is the most important court in the commonwealth judicial system," Herman said, saying that county court is a time for direct contact with people, while most other courts instead focus on appeals.

Herman said the courthouse was built in 1978, and became operational in 1979 with two judges.

"We've done a lot of things. ... We've tweaked things and worked on case management," District Attorney Jack Nelson said. "It's sort of like squeezing a lemon, and you can only get so much juice."

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