Dwight Watt Internet Article #36

#36 - Courthouse renovations 2/9/2000

#36 - Courthouse renovations

Throughout Georgia many counties are in the process of renovating or preparing to renovate their courthouses. Most of the courthouses in Georgia are over 70 years old, and as time goes by need renovating. When they were built the number of phones needed was limited, there was no need for network wiring and the electrical requirements were much less. Also the number of records has increased and the sound systems in courtrooms need modernizing. Not only that they just need repairing for long futures.

The courthouse in many counties, particularly rural counties, is seen as the center point of the county and the reference point you give directions from. It is also quite often the most distinguished architecture. People include pictures of the courthouse quite often when bragging on community whether in post cards, web sites or afghans.

Emanuel County had a referendum a while back about their courthouse. The voters were given a choice of renovating the existing courthouse or building a new one. Architects had been hired who had studied the courthouse and gave the costs of renovating the existing courthouse and the costs of building a new one with a picture shown of the new courthouse that voters were voting for. The voters voted to renovate the existing courthouse. (Personally I voted for the new one as I thought we would be better off with a new facility and I like the design of the new one better, especially the tower). Renovations were begun.

After beginning renovations, including removing hazardous materials and moving everyone out, renovations stopped. Although the windows had been removed originally, the windows were never sealed during the work allowing water damage to occur. Now that work stopped suddenly the windows were sealed. Th county then announced that they had determined that it was going to cost way more than expected because they had suddenly discovered the marble was attached to the burned brick walls of the previous courthouse and were about ready to fall off. The county then announced that they were going to build a new courthouse instead at a new location across the street.

Oddly enough once they began to tear down the old one, the problem may not have been as bad as thought. Although it was always said the previous burned to the ground, when they started taking the marble off, we get a better image of what remained. Yes they did put marble up on part of the old brick walls, but it appears that probably the whole front was a new wall and had been part that went to the ground. The back is old brick, but up there two stories. This means if we had kept the marble grouted over the years, the new part would still be ok and only old might need fixing. The county should sue the architect for the total costs that were spent on renovating the old before ceasing work. In all likelihood the architect's insurance will cover this anyway, although that will lead to higher premiums for them and other architects. However it does appear to be a case of an architect failing to fully do their job. Also the commissioner should have brought in a second consultant to determine if marble problem was really that bad. The commissioners may have, but they have not told us if they did.

Now the questions arise. Why did the architects who determined cost of renovation not look behind some marble and notice the problem of the marble? What happened to the original plans for a new courthouse? Why did the commissioners not have another referendum to see if people wanted to spend more money on existing courthouse, or build new one as originally proposed or build the new one that suddenly can be done for much less than other new one? Agreed the way the referendum was worded the commissioners can change to another plan as the county will still have a courthouse. Will the new one be impressive to reflect the heritage of Emanuel County?

If we are going to build a new courthouse, how soon will we see the plans, and will citizens have input on it? In the new location parking will be much better. If the old location is developed correctly, Swainsboro can have a square it will be proud of and will open up the downtown area. Maybe with some park seating it will encourage some eating establishments to move back downtown. The courthouse is taking out the only one there. In turn maybe we will see some more stores move into downtown and allow the retail portion to grow again. Although Swainsboro has done real well over the last 10 years filling the spaces downtown, although often with government offices.

The people showed their willingness to spend money to get the courthouse to where it should be. Now let's get a courthouse that is worthy of the community and will be there for a long time to come. Let's plant some nice oaks and pines on the square and make it one that people can go and socialize on. Lets take all the monuments that are there now and lay them out on the square to give them maximum visibility. Last lets put a monument there for the previous courthouses showing the various designs used.

Since we are supposed to be building to connect with the Federal Courthouse, there are possibilities for the new courthouse to be stately, impressive and functional. I hope it does become that and that the square is built impressively too. Openness from our government on changes that occur in plans, helps to reduce citizens frustrations.


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