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Vote set on Pa. judicial center plan

Proposal calls for county to acquire Jennings car dealership

June 08, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- The Franklin County (Pa.) Commissioners on Tuesday touted the benefits of constructing a judicial center, buying three buildings, and moving human services to Chambersburg's downtown -- at an estimated cost of $52 million to $58.4 million.

The commissioners plan to vote next Thursday on how to expand the courthouse to accommodate increased caseload and the fifth judge added this year. Commissioners Chairman David Keller said the consensus of the board is to move forward with the plan endorsed by consultant Carter Goble Lee.

County Administrator John Hart said the consultant was charged with "constructing for 20 years and planning for 100 years."

The judicial center proposal calls for the county to acquire the Jennings car dealership property on North Second Street in Chambersburg and construct a 134,000-square-foot courthouse there. The center would include the neighboring former Sheetz store property, which the county already owns, and renovations to the county administrative annex next door. The center would have a total of about 540 parking spaces.

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The offices currently housed in the administrative annex would be moved to the existing courthouse complex on Lincoln Way East downtown, which would be renovated. Some county functions currently on Franklin Farm Lane as well as the Area Agency on Aging would also move there.

The commissioners would take steps to purchase their leased office space on the northeast quadrant of Memorial Square as well as the neighboring former Harmon's Furniture store and Lighten Up Chambersburg buildings on North Main Street for additional office space.

Keller said several facilities on Franklin Farm Lane would be emptied. Those include the old jail, the jail annex and the human services building.

"There's potential for re-use by the county and there's potential for commercial development," he said.

The commissioners looked at other configurations for the judicial center, including a private developer's proposal to move some services to a property on Spring Street. The board said its favored proposal best addresses safety and it minimizes moving and construction disruptions for the court system.

County officials will tell the judicial center architect and engineers to design appropriately for the North Second Street neighborhood, which includes Corpus Christi School across the street, Hart said.

Commissioner Bob Thomas said a National Center for State Courts study said the county will need seven judges by 2028.

"What will this be in 100 years? It's a monstrous decision, no doubt about it," Thomas said of the importance of careful planning.

Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski served on the facilities planning committee and said he's confident in the end result of the evaluation process, even if it had a few deficiencies at first.

"There was no rubber stamp ... and there was significant disagreement," Ziobrowski said.

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