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Courthouse preview

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A tour of the new building

By Chris Sardelli

Gazing at the restored historic courthouse through a large, arched window inside the new courthouse building, County Councilman Jack Estridge expresses his amazement.
“It’s like a dream,” he said. “It just hasn’t hit me yet.”
Chad Catledge, courthouse project consultant with Lancaster’s Perception Builders, led Estridge and a  few other county officials on a tour of the new courthouse Friday afternoon. It was one of two tours he offered small groups of county officials Friday.
The new courthouse is about 75.9 percent complete, while the project as a whole is about 65 percent complete. Work outside the new courthouse, which includes landscaping and sidewalk work, is considered part of the project as a whole.
Catledge showed off the building’s many amenities, spread throughout its four floors, during the two-hour tour that Estridge and a few other officials took Friday.
On the bottom floor is a series of stark prisoner cells and attorney/client interview rooms, painted a uniform beige with dark cement floors.
One floor up is an expansive east corridor, lined with a series of arched windows on one side and courtrooms and offices on the other. When the building opens next year, Catledge said the hallway will be full of lawyers, clients, families and county workers.
The building will feature many high-tech security features, including card access to all doors and about 160 security cameras, both inside and outside.
“And when people come in, they will come in through the front door, it’s the only way in,” Catledge said. “The building also has the ability to be locked down via a panic button, which closes safety doors on each floor.”
Wired and efficient
Lancaster County Clerk of Court Jeff Hammond, another official to take the tour, likes how his new office is taking shape.
When the new courthouse is complete, three of his offices will be combined into one. The clerk’s office will be able to handle child support, fines and fees, civil filings and criminal warrants all in the same location.
There will be a large counter space for Hammond’s staff to answer questions from the public and work stations for attorneys to use. Back rooms in the office will be used to store DNA refrigerators and files.
“This will cut out a lot of traffic through our office. And provides a secure location,” Hammond said.
Friday’s tour group marveled at the technology that will be available in the new courtrooms. This technology includes TV screens throughout the building.
Outside each courtroom will be a monitor showing bailiffs and the public which cases are in session.
Inside the main courtroom, a smart podium in the center of the room will have connections for DVD players, digital media cards and laptop computers, so lawyers can present evidence. The evidence will be shown on several monitors located at the judge’s bench, the jury box and on the walls for the audience to see. Catledge said the judge will have control over the monitors.
“If something shows up on the monitors, it’s because the judge has approved it,” he said.
The building has four courtrooms.
The third floor will have a few offices, but remain largely unfinished to allow for future expansion.
Ready to occupy in June 2011
Earlier last week, at County Council’s Nov. 9 meeting, Catledge and Danny Mullis, project executive at BE&K Building Group of Charlotte, updated council on the project.
As of Oct. 31, the project has incurred almost $21.8 million in expenses, out of a projected final estimate of $33.5 million. It is within budget and on schedule, Catledge said.
Catledge said construction should be complete by April, followed by a few months of finishing details on the building. It should be ready to occupy in June, he said.
Council Chairman Rudy Carter, who recently walked through the building, appeared impressed by how the project is moving along.
“That place is absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “From that little mockup we had to what it is now, it’s nowhere close.”
Work on historic courthouse
As far as work on restoring the historic courthouse, Catledge said the interior of that building is complete. The building was severely damaged by an August 2008 fire set by an arsonist.
“All our inspections are passed and complete,” Catledge said. “The elevator is turned on. Everything is ready, except for our egress, which is surrounded by new construction.”
Catledge said construction crews spent the last few months finishing up railings on the outside steps, repairing plaster and building a retaining wall and concrete sidewalks. The last phase of the project is to replace landscaping.
That will be done at the same time as the new courthouse’s landscaping.
He said the building is not ready to be opened because it’s surrounded by construction. As soon as there is a safe place for people to enter and exit the old courthouse, it can be reopened, Catledge said.
“This will be completed within the next few months,” he said. “It’s going very well.”

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Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416