Franklin County Commissioners see preliminary plans for courthouse renovations

April 26, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER |
  • The old Franklin County (Pa.) courthouse is pictured on the right in this Herald-Mail file photo. An architect told The Franklin County Commissioners Tuesday that the courthouse complex (the old courthouse/annex), a firehouse on North Second Street and the Chambersburg Trust building can be renovated as viable space for future courthouse needs.
Herald-Mail file photo

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — The Franklin County Commissioners got their first look Tuesday at preliminary architectural plans for a renovated county judicial center that could cost between $1.7 million and $2.1 million.

During a morning meeting, Stuart Christenson of the architectural firm Noelker and Hull Associates of Chambersburg summarized plans to use several of the county's existing properties rather than build a new courthouse complex that could cost in excess of $50 million.

County Administrator John Hart said the county's $2 million 2010 budget surplus could cover the cost of renovations.

In 2010, the commissioners considered plans to build a new judicial center that could have cost up to $58.4 million, according to some estimates. They dropped it in November.

With the courthouse squeezed for space and officials looking for ways to improve security, commissioners are reviewing how to address the issues without building a new judicial center, Hart said.

Christenson said the courthouse complex (the old courthouse/annex), a firehouse on North Second Street and the Chambersburg Trust building can be renovated as viable space for future courthouse needs.

However, he recommended tearing down the former Harmon furniture building.

After citing a laundry list of problems with the 24,000-foot former Harmon's Furniture building, including requiring a new elevator and a new fire-protection system, Christenson said the long, narrow shape of the building would "function better as a bowling alley than as office space."

Commissioner Bob Thomas said the Harmon building was purchased as part of a long-term plan more for the land than for the building if the county built a courthouse in the future.

A decision was not made on demolishing the Harmon building, but the cost was included in Christenson's price.

In Christenson's proposed judicial center plan, he said the old courthouse would be equipped with a handicapped entrance in the front of the building on the Lincoln Way side through a window into the first-floor level.

He recommended that the courthouse annex be renovated by expanding the sheriff's department.

By adding a holding cell and adding a solid block sally port entered by car, Christenson said security would be improved.

The jury assembly room will be improved so it can be used as a modified courtroom and the conference room on the second floor will be converted into a small courtroom.

Two floors of the fire hall could be used as judicial conference rooms in divorce and juvenile proceedings after upgrading the building and adding an elevator.

The commissioners discussed putting a ramp between the old courthouse and the trust building, but those prices were not included in the probable cost of construction.

"This isn't a tourniquet. This isn't a Band-Aid. But, this also isn't a cure for the next 20 years. Down the road we're going to have to readdress this," Commissioner Robert Ziobrowski said.

Franklin County is growing in population and caseload in the demands of the criminal justice system, said David Keller, chairman of the commissioners.

"We just can't assume public input. We have to welcome and encourage it," Ziobrowski said. "I think it's critical these plans be reviewed by the public, and we get input."

The commissioners agreed to post preliminary plans on their website,

Also, the public is invited to a question-and-comment period to discuss plans for the Franklin County Judicial Center during the commission's meeting on Tuesday, May 3 at 10:30 a.m.

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