Majority 4 suggest scaling back on courthouse renovation

WINNSBORO – It’s not every day when the solicitor and public defender make the same argument.

But when it comes to the condition of the existing Fairfield County Courthouse, Randy Newman and William Frick were on the same side at a recent County Council meeting, fully endorsing the proposed renovation project.

Addressing council members, both said the courthouse has devolved into a dilapidated and unsafe structure.

Frick, recently elected public defender for the 6th Judicial Circuit, said the structure likely isn’t Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint. He also said it’s the least secure courthouse in the 6th Judicial Circuit, which includes Fairfield, Chester and Lancaster counties. “We’ve been fortunate no issues have happened. These ain’t necessarily the nicest people sometimes. Security is a necessity.”

“I ask y’all to come over and see what it’s like,” Frick said.

Newman, the district’s chief solicitor, said the courthouse’s current setup places some of the area’s most dangerous defendants in precariously close contact with the judges hearing their cases.

“With three countries, this is the least secure that we have,” he said. “What you have there is a ticking time bomb.

Newman went on to say that lawyers, judges, inmates and the general public all use the same door.

“We’ve had to hold a judge back in his office while we’re bringing defendants out,” Newman continued. “That’s no way to have a courthouse security set up.”

For others, the need for renovations is even more basic.

“There are 20 women in the courthouse using about two [bathroom] stalls,” said Fairfield County Treasurer Norma Brahman. “Our men have to use and share a public restroom.”

Fairfield County recently started on a courthouse renovation project designed to address these issues and other issues.

The project involves an overhaul of the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing, installing an elevator, restroom upgrades and making the building ADA compliant. It also calls for building an addition to the back of the building.

So far, about $741,000 had been spent, which includes $257,000 on construction, $114,000 on engineering and $295,000 on design, said Bryant Brown with GMK Associates in Columbia, the firm handling the project.

The project has an estimated cost of about $5.3 million. It’s being funded by leftover money from a 2013, $24 million Fairfield Facilities Corporation bond.

However, only about $4.2 million to $4.3 million remains from the bond.

At the May 23 meeting, as Brown laid out expenditures, the majority 4 council members peppered him with questions about individual aspects of the project, suggesting a desire to scale the project back.

Council Chairman Moses Bell asked if the $741,000 spent thus far would make the renovated building handicapped accessible.

“Would that piece get you ADA compliant?” Bell asked.

“No,” Brown bluntly answered. “It will not. It’s just the start of it.”

Brown went on to say that items such as ADA compliance, piping upgrades and other necessities are integrated into the project and cannot be easily removed.

Still, council members continued to quiz Brown about components of the project.

Councilman Mikel Trapp asked how much it would cost to make the courthouse fully ADA compliant.

Brown answered $2.4 million, prompting a gasp in the background. He said the figure includes upgrades to the courtroom, security, bathrooms and elevator.

Councilwoman Shirley Greene asked if the $2.4 million included heating and cooling. Brown said some but not all of the $1.1 million in estimated HVAC costs are included in the $2.4 million figure.

Trapp then asked how much money would be saved if the county bypassed the building addition. He also asked whether the contract itself had even been signed.

Brown said eliminating the addition would lower the total cost from $5.3 million to $4.6 million. However, he said the addition costs much more than the $700,000 difference, noting that if no addition is included, the existing elevator would have to be ripped out, a costly endeavor.

As to the contract, County Administrator Jason Taylor said a contract is in place.

Bell later complained that courthouse costs have ballooned from $1.8 million to $5.3 million.

“We cannot continue to add costs to every project,” he said.

Taylor noted, however, that the $1.8 million figure was an arbitrary amount that was likely added after the 2013 bond was approved and predated his arrival.

“The $1.8 million, we’ve never really been certain where those numbers came from,” Taylor said. “I think those numbers were just plugged in there, frankly.”

In the end, council members asked for an itemized list of all expenses related to the renovation.

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