Chief judge calls to save vacated jail

A plan to demolish the Joint Law Enforcement Center at 401 Walton Way using sales tax dollars isn’t sitting well with Augusta judges.

 

Tearing down the 32-year-old jail and law enforcement center was allocated $1.5 million from the special purpose, local option sales tax 7 package voters approved in 2015, after years of complaints about mold and other problems.

The building, which includes a courtroom, has been vacant since 2013. Richmond County Sheriff’s Office moved across the street to a new building and inmates relocated to the expanded Charles B. Webster Detention Center in 2012. Prisoner intake moved to the detention center the following year.

As its demolition date approaches, however, Chief Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown is asking the Augusta Commission to save it. The item is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

Reached late Monday, Brown said the facility is needed “for Juvenile Court, training, additional courtrooms, office space, storage, mediation and future growth.

“We face many challenges and there is urgency,” he said.

Commissioner Andrew Jefferson said the judiciary needs more space for court and offices because the Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse isn’t big enough.

The judicial center opened in 2011 with 17 smaller courtrooms, but court is also held in the commission chamber at Augusta Municipal Building when extra space is needed.

Jefferson, who took office this year, said he’d been “under the impression that the new courthouse would accommodate the courthouse.”

He and others on the commission said they were waiting to learn how much it will cost to make the old jail inhabitable.

“People have to put on masks to go in there even to clean it out,” Commissioner Marion Williams said.

Williams said Brown has a bigger plan, to use the building for a youth training center.

“Our 45th president is talking about make America great – if we teach our young people skills, that will make America great,” Williams said.

Williams said the new courthouse was never big enough. “Before they got in there, it was too small,” he said.

Commissioner Dennis Williams said he had suggested using the law enforcement center to house the Augusta Public Defender but was told it was infested with mold.

He had heard of Brown’s plan to create a “juvenile rehab center or something like that” and was open to the idea, Williams said.

“It’s a good idea if the building can be refurbished at a reasonable cost,” he said.

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Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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