The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 17, 2013

A 'BETTER' PLACE: Temporary courthouse could 'handle at least three times' as many cases

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— The 39th Judicial Circuit is expected to move out of the Limestone County Courthouse by late January or early February, said Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee on Monday.

The operations of four circuit judges will move a few blocks south on Jefferson Street to the former Better Living building, which is being revamped to serve as the temporary courthouse.

Menefee said once the court system has left its downtown quarters, the courthouse’s first, second and third floors will be renovated at an estimated $3 million cost.

The interior overhaul could take 18 months to two years to complete, according to the project’s general contractor Martin & Cobey in Athens.

“By the first of January, the plan is to bid the courthouse work,” Menefee said. “It will take three weeks to a month to bid those (packages) out. By February, if we have the courts moved out, we’ll be ready to start getting that work done.

“We want to have the bidding process out of the way before they move. If we do that, as quick as they move out, contractors will be able to start work.”

The circuit court clerk and district attorney’s offices are expected to move at the same time as the judges, according to Menefee.

District Attorney Brian Jones will be at the future home of his office’s pretrial diversion program across from the Clinton Street courthouse annex and next to Inez’s restaurant on Washington Street.

Circuit Court Clerk Brad Curnutt and his staff will be housed in the Limestone County Water and Sewer Authority’s customer service building across from the Better Living building.

Menefee said due to the county’s population growth and having only one large courtroom available in the current courthouse, the court system’s caseload has experienced scheduling delays.

“The courts will probably shut down one or two weeks during the move but once they’re in the Better Living building, they will be able to handle at least three times as many (cases),” Menefee said. “Having more courtrooms was part of my reasoning for pushing a temporary courthouse with more space.”

The chairman said scrapping plans to renovate the fourth floor of the downtown courthouse and not removing a marble staircase for an elevator shaft to the top floor saved the county about $4.5 million.

“We have to change the courthouse because our population is growing and with that comes more court cases,” Menefee said.

After the courthouse renovations are complete, the county’s court programs — Community Corrections, Pardons and Paroles — will relocate from their current home in the nearby Crutcher Shopping Center to the Better Living building, which the county purchased in April for $464,000.