At a Special Session of the Pocahontas County Commission, held at 3:30 p.m. June 27, the commissioners discussed the proposed new courthouse annex, but took no action on it.
Commission President Walt Helmick referred to it as being a “Judicial Annex,” saying he wants it to house Magistrate 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 two 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 the new annex on that site.
Helmick said one of the explored options was to add an addition to the present courthouse building. He said he dismissed that option because such an addition could possibly disfigure the historic appearance of the original courthouse, and it would not allow for the 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. To that end, Helmick said the commission retained an architect, who works with historical building preservation, to assess the jail and determine if renovation would be practical and financially feasible.
According to Helmick, the architect 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. Helmick suggested one way around that historic designation might be to have the state fire marshal condemn the existing jail building.
Helmick said 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, “we do have the money to do it.”
The project would present some issues during the estimated two years of construction, such as where to temporarily put the deputies who now have their offices in the jail. The commissioners also discussed moving the Health Department from the courthouse, and helping them relocate, possibly to the present 911 building once the 911 Center moves into its new building behind the hospital, into the Edray Building, or to another location. 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 would be used for storage.
Helmick said he wants to schedule a date to take the other commissioners and other stakeholders involved in the project to look at the Tucker County courthouse annex and other courthouse annexes in nearby counties.