Space, budget tight for new courthouse plans

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Both the available space to build a new Hoke County Courthouse in downtown Raeford, and the state-funded grant money available to build it are going to be tight as commissioners work out details of the project.

Commissioners will have to decide how to proceed after two board members heard concerns from stakeholders at a meeting last week, and after they talk about it again more in-depth during a retreat set for this Thursday in Charlotte.

Committee Chairman and Commissioner Harry Southerland and Commission Chairman Allen Thomas heard concerns from District Attorney Mike Hardin, public defender Jonathan McInnis and Hoke County Clerk of Court Evelyn McLeod about where things are going with the design for the courthouse.

The county has $31 million in grant money from the state and about $2.3 million added from local funds to build the new courthouse. However, now the county has to balance high building costs with the project budget, and work out what can and can’t be included in the new facility while staying in that budget.

The district attorney said he was concerned a courthouse built to the current concept might not suit the local court system’s needs long-term, simply because of lack of space.

“If we build a courthouse that’s already obsolete in space that doesn’t include everybody in that space, and there’s no room on that footprint to build more space, that in the future is going to be a problem,” Hardin said. “There’s limited space downtown, we’ve got the jail there. If you’re looking to the future, you’re talking about having to move out to the ag center or someplace else in the future for growth.”

Hardin asked the committee to consider using the footprint “in a way that allows for future growth, and allows for more people to be put in that space, maybe not right this second, but maybe in a couple of years.”

Silling Architects, which is designing and will build the new courthouse, has developed a plan for a three-floor courthouse to go on the empty lot on Main Street across from the historic county courthouse. The lot is currently used for parking. The architect firm originally proposed a two-story courthouse, but commissioners requested the project go taller to leave space for a new county administration building to be constructed on the same property.

That means space on the footprint will be tight, but even so, it could leave room open for some expansion of the building in the future, Tom Potts of Silling Architects said.

Potts updated the committee on where things stand on the design for the project. The firm has a modern concept approach for designing the exterior of the building, with lots of glass in the side facing Main Street. The company has also worked out a basic floor plan for the inside of the new courthouse.
“We reviewed with the clerk, we reviewed with the public defender, with the district attorney and the district court, and with security…after that initial review we went back and we have tweaked the floor plans,” Potts said. “Some of that has had a second review. We’ve not had the opportunity here just to show, for example, Mr. Hardin how we’ve tweaked his space….we think that we’ve accounted for all of generally the best way to accommodate all of this from our review.”

Potts noted that the firm also has a “high-level understanding” of what the parking is and planned to share some options for it at an upcoming meeting.

After some back-and-forth discussion, the committee concluded the meeting without deciding on any action. Thomas and Southerland said they would continue the discussions with the other commissioners and the design firm during the upcoming retreat this week.

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