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Judicial facilities expansion energizes Franklin Co. residents

Commissioner David Keller: Volume of comments is unmatched for any other matter

June 29, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Franklin County (Pa.) Commissioners said Tuesday morning they weren't surprised by opinions expressed the previous evening by 40 proponents of keeping the courthouse in the downtown core, instead of building a new one on North Second Street.

Commissioners Chairman David Keller said the board has heard similar comments for weeks as it tries to decide how to expand judicial facilities. He said the volume of comments is unmatched for any other matter in his 2 1/2 years as a commissioner.

"It's on a daily basis we receive e-mails and phone calls," Keller said.

The Chambersburg Borough Council hosted a session Monday about alternate proposals to building a judicial center at the Jennings car dealership site on North Second Street. A consultant for the commissioners estimated building that courthouse and moving other county services to downtown would cost $52 million to $58.4 million.

Proponents of keeping the courthouse at or near its current location shared economic, aesthetic, traffic and safety concerns with the council. The commissioners said a staff member who attended the meeting would share feedback with them.

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Resident Judy Kell attended both the council and commissioners meetings this week. She spoke favorably of work done by developer Bernard Washabaugh II, who proposed redevelopment opportunities.

"Mr. Washabaugh's presentation was very good and, I think, generally well liked," she said of the council meeting.

Washabaugh's latest plan to build a courthouse and parking garage off North Main Street was forwarded to consultant Carter Goble Lee, Keller said. Meanwhile, the commissioners and county staff are working to "understand the borough's concerns" about traffic infrastructure and cooperate with it, he said.

"Our focus right now is addressing traffic concerns with the borough," Keller said.

The commissioners encouraged people with comments to call, e-mail or visit them, or attend regular meetings or the evening Vision 2020 meetings.

"I'd encourage any and all citizens to contact us," Keller said.

"We are out there," Commissioner Robert Ziobrowski said.

Allen Piper, from Citizens for Responsible Government, said he encouraged the people who spoke at the borough council meeting to attend commissioners meetings. Some asked when and where the commissioners meet, he said.

"That's sad in this day and age with the decisions being made," Piper said.

Because of the traffic considerations, county officials said it'd be several weeks before the commissioners would further deliberate about the courthouse.

"We want these issues to be resolved in the best interest of the Borough of Chambersburg and all Franklin County citizens," Keller said.

"I'm glad everyone is waking up and becoming involved. ... I can't understand why people didn't become more energized before," Ziobrowski said.

Keller said people need to be reminded the county wouldn't be vacating its buildings on U.S. 30 (Lincoln Way). The North Second Street proposal calls for human services and other agencies to be relocated there.

He said the commissioners learned they need to find a better way to communicate the "why" aspect of their major decisions.

"Our judicial system is at a point where it's just not tenable to continue operating with the current state of our facilities," he said. "We must move forward."

"Lost in the shuffle ... is the need for an expansion or alteration of our judicial facilities to meet the 21st century," Ziobrowski said.

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