The 120,800-square-foot structure, always known as the “municipal building,” lost a major tenant – the Richmond County Commission – when city and county governments consolidated in 1996, and sustained its biggest loss when Augusta opened a new county courthouse on James Brown Boulevard in May.
At that time, the bulk of 250 court workers relocating into Augusta-Richmond County Judicial Building and John J. Ruffin Courthouse came from the municipal building, according to Rick Acree, the director of facilities for Augusta Recreation, Parks and Facilities.
The move left the building’s third, fourth and fifth floors completely vacant, and their lights and air conditioning are turned down to maintenance levels, Acree said.
Also seeing little traffic since May is the building’s second floor, home to two spacious marble-wainscoted courtrooms, although the building maintains the designation courthouse “annex” to accommodate a city charter requirement that the commission hold its meetings there.
The move left offices on the sixth, seventh and ninth floors empty, too.
The city has partially developed a yearlong $14.3 million remodeling project to modernize the aging building, but the construction is on hold because of a lawsuit over the process used to select a vendor to oversee all aspects of the project.
According to procurement documents, plans are to remodel much of the building, excluding the seventh-floor offices of the Richmond County marshal and eighth-floor headquarters of the city administrator.
Acree said plans also include modernizing restrooms, increasing accessibility for people with disabilities and moving the 530 Greene St. building’s secured public entrance from its current location facing Greene to the opposite side, facing Telfair Street and the parking lot.
After appropriate facilities are developed, the city plans to move its small-business development, law department, county extension, Augusta Cares and other offices out of space now rented for those services, Acree said.
The plan includes remodeling a second-floor courtroom to become the Augusta Commission meeting chamber, he said.
All 100 seats in the eighth-floor Lee Beard Commission Chamber, in addition to the hall outside, were full for last week’s commission meeting when the commission voted on whether to keep City Administrator Fred Russell.
Last week, a hearing was held on the city’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by local developer John Speer, but all parties await a judge’s ruling on whether a restraining order enjoining the city from moving forward with the project will remain in place.