JONESBORO — It still takes quite a bit of imagination and explanation by Project Coordinator Mike Smith to envision what the new Union County Courthouse will look like when finished.
But enough progress has been made in its construction to realize how dramatic of a change the new facility will be for county services and, in turn, for the public.
“It’s something that needed to be done years ago, and I think it’s something the public’s going to be very proud of,” said Union County Board Chairman Randy Lambdin. “It’s going to be a very safe, clean environment for the public to access and for the employees.”
The current courthouse was built in 1858 with additions in 1864 and 1894. In addition to a number of structural problems, the old courthouse is without elevators and only has limited handicap access.
Voters approved a 1 percent sales tax increase in February 2010 to pay for the new courthouse, which was designed by HOK, an international architectural firm with offices in St. Louis.
The square footage of the existing courthouse will more than double, increasing from 16,000 square feet to 43,000.
A number of offices that are now located next door, across the street, and in some cases down the street will now be under one roof.
“I think it’s going to be a lot more efficient having all offices in one building,” Lambdin said.
Smith said half the traffic to the courthouse is to the circuit clerk and the probation office. When the new building is finished, those offices will be located near the entry.
“That takes half the load off,” Smith said.
To the right is the elevator and stairwell to the second floor, where the courtrooms and state’s attorney’s office will be located.
The sheriff’s department, dispatch and holding cells are located in the basement.
“Security will be greatly increased,” said Union County Sheriff David Livesay.
Currently, the sheriff’s office takes inmates out of the front door of the sheriff’s department into the front door of the courthouse. In the new building, there is an elevator from the jail directly to holding cells adjacent to the courtroom.
The Union County Jail will now be able to hold 16 prisoners at a time. Currently it has space for four.
Union County has $12.5 million in bonds for construction of the new courthouse, but cost overruns in the project may increase the price tag by as much as $2 million. Lambdin said the final cost is not yet known and the county was still exploring alternate sources of funding.
The sheriff’s department should be ready to move into the new building in October. Most county offices will be able to move in by December. The old courthouse building will then be demolished.
“In April of 2013, we’ll have everything gone and set,” Smith said.
On Twitter: @BrentStewartSI