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More capital projects in works

February 05, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Special to The Herald-Mail

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Employees in the Jefferson County planning and zoning, engineering and permits departments soon will move from their quarters on the second floor of an old downtown building into brand new, modern digs in the Mason Building a few doors up at 116 E. Washington St.

Kirk Davis, acting director of planning and zoning, told the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday that the $305,000 renovation of the Mason building is nearly complete.

The money is part of more than $14 million in capital improvement projects spent in the last two years on new and renovated county government buildings.

Topping the list was $7 million to buy and renovate an unused industrial building in the Burr Industrial Park into the new 911 Center.

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The building, all 10,000 square feet of it, houses the 911 call center, offices and the emergency operations center for the county's Homeland Security facility plus administration offices, Davis said in an interview after Thursday's commissioners meeting.

The county spent $2.6 million to renovate another building it bought in the Burr Industrial Park, this one for a new sheriff's department, Davis said. That building covers 15,000 square feet.

Davis said it cost $2.6 million to convert the historic Charles Town jail building adjacent to the Jefferson County Courthouse into usable office space for the family law master and other agencies.

The new recreation center at Sam Michaels Park on Job Corps Road cost $2 million to build, he said.

That project focused on playing fields, administrative offices for the parks and recreation department, a meeting room and a day care center run by the department, Davis said.

It cost $50,000 to renovate the offices of the probation department at 110 E. Washington St.

Another $38,000 was spent on modernizing the St. Margaret Building across from the old jail complex. That work included a new circuit courtroom, two magistrate courtrooms, offices for the county's three magistrates and renovations in the prosecutor's office.

Circuit Judge David H. Sanders, who took over the upstairs court room in the historic Jefferson County Courthouse Jan. 1 from retiring Judge Thomas Steptoe, has asked the commissioners for improvements to the courtroom, his chambers and administrative offices.

Among Sanders' requests were ballistic shielding in front of his bench and that of his clerk and court reporter that meets security standards set by the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Sanders also wants to renovate two unused rooms on either side of the gallery seating areas in the rear of courtroom into space for witnesses, and lawyers and their clients.

One of the rooms was crowded with junk and shelves loaded with heavy old law books once used by circuit-riding West Virginia Supreme Court justices when they held court in Charles Town. Between 1872 and 1912, the justices made up teams that served in Wheeling, Charleston and Charles Town, Sanders said. "This room was probably used for their chambers," he said.

Until 1918, the wall behind the judge's current bench in front of the courtroom was the outside wall. Chambers and office space in use today were not added until the building was expanded at that time, he said.

Davis said the county expects to spend about $125,000 modernizing the courtroom, chambers and offices plus updates to the lighting and sound systems.

Still on the drawing boards is a $10 million judicial center slated to be built in a nearby county parking lot. Its projected 30,000 square feet will house two new circuit courtrooms, chambers and administrative offices for two judges, the sheriff's tax department, a prisoner detention facility, the circuit clerk's office and a public meeting room, Davis said.

Once built, the county clerk's office on the first floor of the old courthouse can expand into space vacated by the circuit clerk, he said.

Davis said the current economic conditions means the county can build the judicial center cheaper now than two years ago.

"Contractors are hungrier now," he said.

He told the commissioners the county has about $8 million in its capital improvements account.

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