County approves new courthouse beside Government Center

Attorney George Cleland shakes Commissioner Everette Witherspoon’s hand.

County approves new  courthouse beside Government Center
August 24
04:00 2017

After many years of debate, Forsyth County commissioners voted to move forward with plans to build a new courthouse on Chestnut Street to replace the aging Hall of Justice.

The historic vote took place during the commissioner’s Aug. 17 meeting. The new courthouse will be two five-story buildings, with one located in the currently empty lot next to the Forsyth County Government Center, which will contain courtrooms, and the other will be an office building across the street. They will be joined by a pedestrian bridge. 

There will also be a parking deck built on the other side of the neighboring Wells Fargo deck. The county is currently in the process of acquiring the vacant Chestnut Street lot. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $126.8 million.

“We hope that this is something we can be very proud of in this community,” said County Commissioner Chairman Dave Plyler.

Though all commissioners supported the new courthouse, there was disagreement on what the budget of the project should be. County Commissioner Vice Chair Don Martin proposed a maximum budget of $120 million, which included $5 million in previously approved two-thirds bonds.

Despite assurances from Martin that $120 million was just a target they would adjust after they got a more precise estimate on the project, Commissioner Everette Witherspoon wanted the budget to be $126.8. Witherspoon brought a substitute resolution to that effect that failed after only he and Fleming El-Amin voted for it.

The final vote for the courthouse was 5-2 with El-Amin and Witherspoon voting “no” because of the lower budget.

There were numerous advantages to the approved plan that won over commissioners with concerns about the project’s cost and the debt the county would take on.

Commissioner Richard Linville said he now supported the project after much “listening, looking and seeing.” He liked how a tunnel that’ll run through the Government Center will be used to take prisoners from the county jail to the new courthouse, which is safer, cheaper and more efficient than driving them there. Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said her concerns were addressed by turning the current courthouse into surplus property with any proceeds the county makes going to the debt service for the new Hall of Justice.

“It’s a long time coming and I thank everyone for their patience,” said Whisenhunt.

County Manager Dudley Watts said the next step will be finding a construction manager and design team for the project. He said during the several years it will take to build the new courthouse, some services in the current Hall of Justice may move into the Government Center temporarily, such as the magistrate’s office.

Watts said the county’s been trying to create a plan to renovate or replace the Hall of Justice since 2005. He thanked Larry Robbs of Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects, PA for giving them many options for the new courthouse. He also thanked the lawyers, judges and others who work at the courthouse for their input.

“I don’t know of another project that’s had this much stakeholder involvement,” said Watts.

Many of those stakeholders were in the audience to see the vote. One of them was Attorney George Cleland, who has made a weekly vigil of attending county commissioner meetings for this issue since he was president of the local bar association back in 2015. He said that the bar has gone to rotary clubs, churches and community groups to let them know the importance of a new courthouse in hopes of moving the issue forward.

Cleland said that when the two building option came up six months ago, it was a turning point, since it would let the county build a new building, which the bar association wanted, at a lower cost. He was “enormously grateful” to see it move forward.

“I’m really, really proud of them,” he said. “This decision was really hard and they struggled mightily to save taxpayer dollars and still do it, and we’re just really pleased with it.”

Also during the meeting:

*Commissioners approved the publication of a five-year contract for the Forsyth Humane Society to handle dog and cat adoptions at the Forsyth County Animal Shelter for $510,714 a year with an annual 2 percent adjustment for inflation. The Humane Society, with input from county staff, will decide which animals enter its adoption program. The county will still administer any necessary euthanasia.

*The county agreed to a $1 million loan from the City/County Utility Commission for a regional wastewater lift station in conjunction with Davie County that will provide wastewater service to the Idols Road Business Park. During the public comments, several residents of the near-by Clemmons West neighborhood voiced concerns about the business park’s potential impact on traffic and stormwater runoff that could cause flooding.  Martin assured residents the project is subject to rules on minimizing traffic impact and stormwater runoff. He also said the door is still open if the Village of Clemmons would like to financially participate in it.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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