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New county courthouse priority

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By The Staff

A year ago, several members of Lancaster County Council said a new county courthouse was a top priority.

The process takes time, but some steps were taken to move forward on the issue over the last year.

The next step in the process is hiring an architect.

County Council Chairman Rudy Carter said the council committee working on hiring an architect is in the final stages of the selection process, but an announcement on the architect won't be made until a cost for the courthouse is determined. The goal to determine that figure is early spring.

There appears to be a determination on council to get it done.

"The courthouse is my No. 1 priority for 2008," Carter said. "We have put it off long enough."

Carter said raising funds for the courthouse will be done by a bond referendum.

In the early stages of the courthouse project, council had planned on using taxes generated from the new Wal-Mart to be built in Indian Land to pay for the new building, but that plan hit a major snag with the discovery of the Carolina heel splitter, an endangered mussel, in Six Mile Creek. The building process has been slowed since developers are required to complete a demanding permitting process and work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to build in areas where the heelsplitter lives.

So council deemed a bond referendum to pay for the new court facility would be the route to follow.

Between the heelsplitter and escalating construction costs, time is taking its toll on the project, as well as on the aging courthouse.

To its credit, the county did buy the old car dealership on the S.C. 9 Bypass last year to help correct the woeful magistrate's office situation. That was a needed move and shows the county is dedicated to upgrading the local courts on every level.

Now is the time to move ahead on the new courthouse. The 180-year-old building, designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument, has clearly seen its best days.

The Lancaster County Courthouse now stands as a monument to those in the past who have served faithfully and responsibly to make sure the legal system works here. The old courthouse will still have its place here, possibly as a county museum.

While we need to retain the old courthouse as the historic landmark it is, we need to move forward into the future with a modern courthouse, designed to handle the increasing needs of our growing county.

A new court facility, with a plan for future space and needs, should be one of Lancaster County Council's No. 1 job in 2008.