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Commissioners say yes to jail, seek cuts on courthouse

Henderson County commissioners last week edged close to a commitment on ambitious plans for a major new investment in the county’s judicial functions, though they’re still seeking a substantial drop in the cost.

In a pair of unanimous votes, commissioners voted to start the process to get final architectural plans for a $51 million jail expansion and to explore options for a lower-cost courthouse renovation and five-story tower.
“Let's get the architect moving (on the jail) , the construction manager-at-risk, and by the time we get all these issues with court system resolved in the next three or four months, hopefully we've got a set of plans to go out to bid by May or June next year and we can be moving ahead with that,” Commissioner Bill Lapsley said.
Commissioners agreed that the courthouse piece of the judicial center addition and renovation — JCAR for short — is a much tougher nut to crack. The courthouse renovation and new tower would cost $124 million to build, plus architect’s fees and other soft costs. Soft costs for the total project were projected at $40 million, resulting in a total estimate of $215 million.
“We gotta get this thing down,” Commissioner David Hill said. “I understand the need’s there but we cannot saddle the citizenry with this kind of debt. We’ve got schools coming and a lot of different things coming at us.”

County eyes state money for courthouse

Commissioner Michael Edney, who has advocated for moving ahead with the project with some modest trims, described “a path forward” on the courthouse piece of the project.
“We look at moving forward with the new core tower, considering not finishing at least one of the floors but providing the clerk of court the ground floor basically as designed,” he said. “And then we look at how we modify and renovate the ‘95 building.” He suggested that study should explore moving probation and other court-support offices from Spartanburg Highway to the Grove Street Courthouse and moving nonjudicial administrative offices from the courthouse to the county’s King Street building. Centralizing the Judicial District 29B offices in Hendersonville could also be part of the project.
“Then I think we owe it to our citizens to go to the General Assembly and tell them we're providing district offices for D.A., public defender, judges and probation that we don't legally have to do, but we're doing out of judicial economy and it would make sense,” Edney said. “Given that we are doing a district function (and) providing district space, it would only be logical that the state provide some funding to assist in that regard.
“And we could also go to Transylvania County and Polk County commissioners and say, ‘We're saving y'all money. You don't have to build a new fancy courthouse or extension if you want to chip in on our capital project.’ If you don't ask, they can’t say no.”
Commissioner Daniel Andreotta said architects and contractors often come to the county with “their vision” of a project that’s more than the county can afford. He suggested instead that the invitation should say, “Here's what we’ve got to spend — bring us your best design.”
Board Chair Rebecca McCall said the new review by contractors should relook at renovations to the 1995 courthouse.
“I’ve had a lot of experience over the years with architects and they always make it the Cadillac version,” she said. “Sadly, we are left with a poor model from ’95. It was probably the latest thing and the greatest thing at its time but the construction of it deters some remodeling that could be done to make it fully court space. I think the plans that have been presented to us to completely gut it and start over are way out of line. I think the usable space is there.”