Originally created 06/11/02

Judicial center facing shortfall

Construction on a new Augusta judicial center won't begin for at least another year, and the building's completion is at least three years away, but city officials learned Monday they likely will need more money than expected to pay for a new Richmond County courts complex.

"We're going to be short - by how much, I don't know," said Bill Kuhlke, the chairman of the Augusta Commission's judicial center advisory group.

In February, commissioners voted - as a cost-saving measure - to renovate and expand the existing 100,000-square-foot municipal building instead of building from scratch.

Officials have set aside $20 million in special purpose local option sales tax money for the judicial center, which will house all court functions, including Superior, State, Civil, Magistrate, Probate and Juvenile courts and the clerks' offices. The 200,000-square-foot complex also will provide space for the district attorney's and solicitor's offices.

Initial estimates place construction of the building's addition at $18 million, said Rick Acree, the city's facilities manager.

Additional money will be needed to renovate existing space and to find new office space for administrative city employees currently occupying the building, he said.

More than 100 city employees, including those in the mayor's office, the tax commissioner division and the city's human resources department, will have to be relocated sometime during the three-year design and construction period to make way for the courts.

"My best guess is, this project is going to be running closer to $35 or $40 million," Mr. Acree told the advisory group during a Monday meeting.

An additional $5 million to $7 million is available in the city's general fund to help find administrative space for displaced employees, he said, but officials have yet to discuss locations for those offices.

The commission's judicial advisory group will spend the next few weeks selecting an architectural company to manage the building project. Panelists are expected to look at the availability of creative financing for the project while evaluating architects.

In the end, however, the project could require additional money to be set aside in the next phase of sales tax funding, Mr. Kuhlke said.

"We'll have to take a look at the gap, or we may not be able to finish it until the next sales tax," he said.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.


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