Upgrading the historic Pulaski County Courthouse could cost between $4.5 and $6 million. Residents and government leaders filled the Circuit Courtroom Tuesday to hear the preliminary findings of Rowland Design’s facilities study.
Architect Eric Rowland said that overall, the building is in pretty good shape. “This building obviously represents a great deal of talent when it was built,” he said. “I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious to everybody that looks at the outside of this building that the mason that did the masonry work on this building was a skilled craftsman, probably of a level that would be very difficult to find right now. The building stands tall and true and square, and it has very few structural issues that you might often find with a building of this age.”
But there are a few issues that need to be addressed. One of the big ones is security. Rowland is proposing the creation of a single point of entry by directing all courthouse visitors to the north entrance. A security checkpoint would be installed on the main level. Those unable to use the stairs would use a new ramp to go to the north side’s lower-level door, where they could be buzzed in by a security officer. The other lower-level doors would be retained as exits.
Another issue is drainage. “What we’re proposing to do is to excavate under the perimeter of the building, put in a new perimeter drainage system, if we need to finger under the building to relieve some static pressure, then do that,” Rowland said. “Right now, the concrete floor is half-overbuilt, put on it, probably, wood that’s trapped some, probably, mold. We haven’t looked in there, but you can tell from the smell and the kind of mustiness that there’s moisture in there that’s not getting out.”
The courthouse would also get a number of other updates, including ADA-compliant public restrooms on each floor, a new heating and cooling system, and LED lighting.
Rowland’s presentation included a couple of options. The less expensive one, estimated to cost just under $4.5 million, would keep Circuit Court where it currently is, but the courtroom would be renovated. However, that wouldn’t eliminate the potential security concern of transporting inmates across the street from the Justice Center.
The other option would move Circuit Court into the Justice Center, which would get a 6,400-square-foot addition. That would free up the current Circuit Courtroom for use as the commissioners meeting room or a flexible event space. That option would cost just over $6 million.
But Clerk JoLynn Behny pointed out that it would separate the Clerk’s Office from the courts. Rowland was under the impression that much of the communication could be done electronically, but the Justice Center addition could be enlarged at an estimated cost of $800,000 to $900,000.
Rowland also provided a revised cost estimate for its previous plan to build a larger addition to the Justice Center and tear down the courthouse. It came it at more than $6.9 million.
Going forward, Rowland said the next step will be to have additional discussions with county officials and verify some of the components with consultants, before putting together a final report. He noted that any eventual decisions will ultimately be up to the county commissioners.