The Glynn County Commission met on Tuesday to hear from a committee assembled to look into a lack of space in the Glynn County Courthouse and discuss how they could fit an expansion into Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2020.
Ralph Basham, chairman of the committee, told commissioners the committee was “quite shocked,” at both the lack of space and security in county court facilities and that the courthouse itself was in “an unacceptable situation.”
Overall, the committee recommended an increase of roughly 40,000 square feet to the 108,000 square-foot courthouse.
But security issues were the most pressing, according to Basham. Judges have to share many of the same facilities as the people they pass judgment on, he said, which can lead to many undesirable outcomes.
The various courts are also spread across five buildings around town, making it very difficult for the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office to provide security. Sheriff Neal Jump backed up the claim, saying the courts are spread too far apart for his deputies to police them constantly.
Security issues are particularly acute at the Glynn County Juvenile Court building on Gloucester Street and county Probate Court in the historic courthouse on G Street.
Local architect John Tuten presented the commission with a rough concept it could follow to solve the space and security issues.
Tuten’s plan showed two new wings on the existing courthouse. Juvenile court would occupy the west side while the east wing would serve as office space for the Glynn County Clerk of Superior Court and meeting rooms for juries.
Each wing would initially be only one story tall, Tuten said, but should be built in such a way that they could be easily expanded upwards.
Having the first point of contact with deputies inside the courthouse is also a major security risk, Basham said. The goal of security is to prevent incidents rather than respond to them and to that end, Tuten’s concept showed a fence between the new and old courthouses.
The courtyard in between was entirely fenced in, and anyone seeking to get into either building would have to go through security checkpoints positioned on the sidewalk that runs to the front door of the courthouse from either direction.
On the I Street side of the courthouse, Tuten’s plan showed a fenced-in parking lot for judges and other court staff where landscaping currently exists.
Basham said the committee unanimously recommended moving ahead with the plan, but that it could be done in phases. Jump once again backed their recommendation.
Commission Chairman Mike Browning said the Heery architecture firm — which performed a study in 2014 to determine how much space the courthouse really needed — was working on a cost estimate, and that the commissioners would discuss it further when they heard back.
“We will talk about this again, but hopefully we’ll have a number before we get into the nitty-gritty,” Browning said.
The commission then moved on to discussing a list of proposed SPLOST 2020 projects.
At a collection rate of roughly $20 million a year, a five-year SPLOST could bring in $100 million total, according to County Manager Alan Ours.
Taking a rough estimate of $25 million for the courthouse and the other local government agencies’ cuts, the county can realistically expect, in “rough, general numbers,” to get around $40 million of that for its projects, Browning said.
Browning asked Ours to attach estimates to all road surfacing, bridge, drainage and sidewalk projects, along with all other projects considered high priority.
Public Works Director Dave Austin recommended against doing that, however.
“I don’t see how you make any decisions without some idea of the cost,” said Commissioner David O’Quinn.
The commission asked for the same thing when putting the SPLOST 2016 project list together, Austin explained.
“That’s exactly where we were four or five years ago, we all sat around in a room assigning costs, and then the commissioners picked them and we were picked apart many years ago as to ‘Why was that cost so low?’” Austin said. “Because we had all of 30 days to put a cost in there. It’s a challenge to put a cost in here that we think we’ll be able to build it for five years from now.”
Ultimately, the commission decided it wanted to see rough estimates for the categories Browning outlined.
Most commissioners concurred, with Commissioner Bill Brunson saying he would prefer to stick to “horizontal,” or infrastructure, projects.
“I think it ought to be horizontal, but with the courthouse, we don’t have a choice,” Brunson said.
Ours suggested having an outside firm manage SPLOST projects.
A manager would take roughly five to eight percent on top of whatever it was helping the commission manage, Austin said.
Community Development Director Pam Thompson said Public Works was having little issue with SPLOST projects.
Her department ran into multiple delays while applying for permits from state and federal agencies and acquiring property for right of way, however, and could benefit from a dedicated project manager.
In other business, the commission discussed a proposed contract with impact fee consultant Ross Associates but did not decide on whether or not to enter into it.
The commission will continue SPLOST discussion at its next work session on Oct. 15.