Rowan Justice Center work well under way

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
New courtrooms are rapidly taking shape on the third floor of the Rowan County Justice Center and should be ready for use by late summer or early fall.
Under the watchful eyes of Rowan Sheriff’s deputies, workmen are transforming the unfinished section of the former Rufty building into courtrooms, judges’ chambers, a jury room and other court-related facilities. The Rufty building, a former car dealership, anchors the north end of the Justice Center at the corner of North Main and Liberty Streets.
The county’s top judicial officials appealed to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners last year for more space, after the state agreed to provide an additional district court judge.
The county currently has five district court judges and one resident superior court judge. Once the current project is complete, the county will have eight courtrooms available.
Judicial officials also cited the lack of Superior Court space as a factor in a backlog of cases. Superior Court trials require rooms and related space for juries.
Because of the space crunch, the county has held civil Superior Court sessions at the County Administration Building and also in the Rowan Museum.
Crews from Greensboro-based H.M. Kern Corp. and subcontractors are working under the scrutiny of deputies who are guarding the entry way ó a hole cut in the wall accessible by temporary metal steps leading up the three stories on the Liberty Street side of the Justice Center.
Deputies also are watching over large quantities of evidence stored in makeshift rooms.
Since the Justice Center opened in 1995, the third floor of the Rufty building has been used for evidence storage ó mostly held in chicken wire construction. It’s also served as a exercise area for deputies.
Courtroom walls and auxiliary rooms are now taking shape over the oval track painted on the concrete floor.
The project includes two or more large, secure evidence storage rooms, and officials also plan to create a new evidence storage area at another location.
Ken Deal, county director of administration, said the courtroom project is moving quickly.
It’s part of a larger $4.4 million Justice Center project in which construction crews also will complete a wing in the jail, adding 48 beds. Contractors are awaiting the special order doors and other steel fixtures required to build the pod.
Once the steel arrives, crews will have to cut a hole in the third floor of the jail or remove a skylight to move the steel into the building.
As part of the project, crews will:
– Modify the entryway of the courthouse that will allow reopening of the doors on Main Street at the Clerk of Court’s office. Commissioners have approved extra funding to add personnel for screening at the Main Street entrance.
– Create a new public entrance to the Sheriff’s Office on Main Street. That will allow the public to enter the Sheriff’s Office without going through metal detectors.
With the new entrance, the Sheriff’s Office will have the option of remaining open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but commissioners said Sheriff George Wilhelm must make that decision.