Free Daily Headlines

News

Set your text size: A A A

County embarks on $127 million courthouse-jail expansion

Henderson County commissioners authorized a $10.9 million for the design, engineering and construction management of a massive $127 million addition and renovation plan for the Grove Street Courthouse and the Detention Center. Henderson County commissioners authorized a $10.9 million for the design, engineering and construction management of a massive $127 million addition and renovation plan for the Grove Street Courthouse and the Detention Center.

Embarking on the costliest capital project in the county’s history, Henderson County commissioners agreed last week to hire a designer for a $127 million expansion of the 1995 courthouse and county jail.


Commissioners had been moving gradually toward the decision over the past several years, reviewing a courthouse and detention center needs assessment in January 2021 and voting four months later to seek a consultant to guide the project. Fentress Architects, an international design firm with offices in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.; and Houston, was chosen for the job.
In addition to courtrooms, the 99,100-square-foot courthouse on Grove Street houses the offices of the District Attorney, Clerk of Superior Court, Register of Deeds, Tax Administrator and Information Technology. Commissioners voted on Jan. 19 to move ahead with plans to build a new six-story 94,315-square-foot annex north of the existing courthouse, plus renovation of 40,564 square feet, and expansion of the Detention Center toward the east, including a new 61,000-square-foot jail annex, 8,768 square feet of major renovation work at the existing jail and 51,752 square feet of minor renovation work including patching and paint, potential lighting replacement and electronic security upgrades.
Last week commissioners authorized a contract with Fentress that will cost $10,905,558, or 8.54 percent of the project’s total price tag. The design firm agreed to trim its fee by $414,452 after commission Chair Bill Lapsley suggested a reduction of $1.3 million two weeks earlier.
Commissioners’ unanimous vote to greenlight the design contract came two hours after a resident implored them to reconsider the project. William Vine rose during public comment period at the start of the meeting to warn the board about “bad timing.”
“The country is in the midst of a financial crisis, speeding toward stagflation” that will shrink tax revenue and accelerate costs, he said. “Yet the county speeds forward, oblivious to the crisis by spending in excess of $127 million on expanding the courthouse and jail, more than double the largest previous capital expenditure. Why now for a problem that has existed for years? … What is the rush to get it done now while the economy is in crisis?”
During their discussion later, commissioners and County Manager John Mitchell addressed Vine’s comments.
The county would not be borrowing $127 million immediately to hand over to the architect “and say go build the building,” Mitchell said. “We regard the taxpayers’ dollar so carefully that we don’t provide any money for a service that has not already been rendered.”
The county has been contemplating a judicial complex project of this size for several years, he pointed out, and it has in the years ahead the capacity to pay the debt service within the current tax rate. And if the economic conditions worsen, he said, cancelling or scaling back the work “would be the board’s prerogative as well.”
Commissioner Michael Edney, an attorney who is the board’s strongest advocate for the project, seconded Mitchell’s comments.
“This is not something we started talking about two weeks ago,” he said. “This has been years and years in the making.”
Commissioner David Hill added, “If we get into this and we see the economy take a darker turn than expected, we can always stop.”
Under the timeline Fentress spelled out, design would be complete in the fall of 2023 and construction would take place from May 2024 to April 2027.