Commission officially approves plan for new courthouse on Highway 145

Published 4:32 pm Wednesday, April 3, 2024

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By Carey Reeder | Managing Editor

The continuing saga of the possibility of a brand new courthouse in Chilton County has taken its first huge step into becoming a reality. Following a special called meeting by the Chilton County Commission on April 2, a resolution to approve the plans to construct a new courthouse on Alabama Highway 145 just south of Jefferson State Community College Chilton-Clanton Campus was approved unanimously. Commissioners Joe Headley and Matthew Mims were absent from the meeting.

The resolution highlights a $32 million budget for a two-story building with a basement that will serve as a “one-stop shop” housing all of the county offices in one place for residents of Chilton County to conduct their business.

“I am excited about it, this has been a long time coming and we really need this facility, and I cannot wait to see it come up off the ground,” Chilton County Commissioner Jimmie Hardee said.

The current courthouse was built in 1963 and in recent years has fallen outside of American Disability Act compliance, which costs the county thousands to millions of dollars each year. A renovation survey was conducted at the courthouse to see if renovations to the building would be sufficient, but the survey revealed it would not be cost effective to renovate the old building rather than building a new facility.

The commission wanted to stick to its $30 million budget, but they also wanted to build a new courthouse with the future in mind and possibilities for expansion as well. Following the presentation by the architect of the project at the work session on April 2 prior to the special called meeting, he explained that adding the $2 million to the budget would set the building up better for expansion in the future. The project is also a turnkey project, which means everything associated with the building such as fixtures, lighting, desks, computers and everything else are covered in the $32 million budget.

The plan is for the courthouse to be built on six of the 13 acres of land the county owns on AL Highway 145 with the other seven acres being saved for future expansion. Hardee said they are expecting the project to take around 14 to 24 months to complete once ground is broken at the site, which will be in the coming weeks.

The commission budgeted $10 million towards the project itself leaving $22 million to finance. The commission was able to utilize bonds to avoid using Chilton County taxpayer money and finance the remaining balance of the project.

Hardee thanked the Chilton County Public Building Authority for their assistance with fleshing out the details on the project. The PBA came into play in May 2023 when Judge Sibley Reynolds, a member of the courthouse committee, went before the commission to give an overview of how forming a public building authority can fast track the courthouse project. Reynolds said that if a public building authority is formed the commission can do a design build on the project, which means the designer and the builder collaborate together under a single contract throughout the project.

This eliminated the commission having to bid the project out to a contractor, eliminated change fees during the construction when changes to plans are made and started the project sooner. Instead, the PBA will conduct interviews with prospective contractors to find the best candidate, and who will keep them under their $32 million budget.

The commission hopes to sell the bonds some time during April, and once the Public Building Authority chooses a contractor after the interviews who will keep the project within the $32 million budget, the project will start. The PBA for the courthouse is working very similarly to how the Chilton County Heathcare Authority did while working towards bringing a new hospital to the county after the Chilton Medical Center closed in October 2012, which resulted in the construction of Ascension St. Vincent’s Chilton.

“Thank you to the Public Building Authority and our department heads for coming together to make this plan a reality with this new courthouse,” Hardee said at the meeting on April 2. “It has been a long, hard road, and we are at a point that we can continue to make this look like a reality for the citizens of this county.”