Proposed Courthouse Annex Discussed at Special Commission Meeting
At the June 27th Special Session of the Pocahontas County Commission, which was held at 3:30 pm, the commissioners discussed their proposed new Courthouse Annex, but took no action about it.
Commission President Walt Helmick referred to it as being a “Judicial Annex”, saying he wants it to house the Magistrates Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, law enforcement offices, and the Family Court. He said the Circuit Court would remain in the main courthouse. Helmick said he also envisions moving the commission’s office as well as records storage areas into the new annex. He would like to see the new annex, which would consist of 2 stories and no basement, to contain at least 10,000 square feet of usable space.
Regarding the plans to construct it, Helmick said they considered all alternatives to demolishing the old jail and building a new annex building on that site.
Helmick said one of those explored options was to add an addition to the present courthouse building. He said he dismissed that option because doing that not only could possibly disfigure the historic appearance of the original courthouse, but it would also not add enough needed expansion space.
He said he also has been considering renovating the existing historic jail which sits on his proposed site for the new annex, and turn the renovated building into an annex. To that end, Helmick said the commission retained an architect who works with historical building preservation, to assess the jail and determine if renovation is practical and financially feasible.
According to Helmick, the Architect has said it would be very difficult and probably expensive to renovate the old jail into a workable judicial annex, and that any such renovation would not contain enough space to meet the commission’s needs. Helmick said the architect has agreed to lend his support and recommendation to have the existing building removed from the National Registry of Historic Places. Being on that Registry is an obstacle the commission needs to overcome in order to demolish the existing jail building and to still be eligible to receive federal funding for constructing and equipping a new annex building. Helmick suggested one way around that historic designation might be to have the Fire Marshall condemn the existing jail building.
Helmick said that the architect has promised to provide a cost comparison between renovating the jail building to where it would meet the needs of the commission, and with demolishing the jail and building an entirely new annex building on that site. He said if the renovation costs the same as or more then new construction, he will recommend building a new building, with a glass enclosed walkway over the alley behind the courthouse which would connect the courthouse and the annex Helmick added that “we do have the money to do it.”
The project would present some issues during the estimated 2 years of construction, such as where to temporarily put the Deputies who now have their offices in the jail. The commissioners also discussed removing the Health Department from the courthouse, and helping them relocate, possible to the present 911 building once the 911 Center moves into its new building behind the hospital, or possibly into the Edray Building, which is unused or to somewhere else. They also propose that after the annex is completed, expanding the assessor’s office into the existing commission office area, and moving the Solid Waste Authority into the existing prosecutor’s office, so the courthouse basement would only hold the Extension Service Office and the rest of it to be used for storage.
Helmick said he wants to schedule a date to take the other commissioners and other stakeholders in the project to look at the Tucker County courthouse annex and several other courthouse annexes in nearby counties.