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Franklin County Courthouse project on track, may cost more than originally thought
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Franklin County Courthouse project on track, may cost more than originally thought

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BENTON — Plans to build a new courthouse in Franklin County are moving along on schedule, but may cost more than originally anticipated, County Board Chairman Randall Crocker said. 

Crocker and others on the board worked for years to persuade voters to pass a sales tax increase to pay for a new courthouse. On its third try on the ballot, the measure passed this past April.

The current historical structure in Benton’s town square is beautiful, but crumbling and bursting at the seams, county officials have said. The heating system is on its last leg, it has been retrofitted to accommodate computers and other technology, and it’s not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other problems.

Franklin County voters in April passed the 1% sales tax increase to fund demolition of the current building and construction of a new one. The tax increase is set to expire within 15 years.

Crocker didn’t have a hard figure yet, but he said as the planning process has moved forward, some things have proven to be more expensive than originally thought. He pointed to the installation of an emergency generator system as an example.

“The cost will probably be higher than what we originally projected,” Crocker said. However, he said, “we’re certainly not expecting a huge difference in this.” He said a lot of care is being taken to make sure whatever bids the county accepts will be able to be paid off within the 15-year window of the tax increase.

“We’ve got to be 100% sure on that,” he said. Crocker said the county took in $191,708 in July from the 1% sales tax increase, which will go toward the courthouse project. In August, it collected $191,367, and $181,838 in September. He said these numbers are on track based on the projections presented to voters.

Crocker said Monday that the county is still on track to begin moving out of the old courthouse on Jan. 17. Work began last year to make room at the recently renovated Campbell Building across the street to provide some temporary and permanent offices for those currently in the courthouse. Crocker said it’s his hope that there will not be a break in service, or at least not a big one.

Circuit Clerk Jim Muir has been working diligently to pack up all of his court files — Muir said he needs to have continuous service open for people to file court cases.

“We’ve just got boxes everywhere,” he said of the packing process. He said a company is coming Jan. 13 to remove the filing cabinets from the vaults, and between Friday, Jan. 17 and Monday, Jan. 20, his office will be moving to the Campbell Building.

“I don’t see us missing a beat,” he said.

While there isn’t expected to be much, if any, disruption in service, Crocker encouraged people to call ahead if they plan to come to the courthouse between Jan. 17 and Jan. 30 to make sure the office they hope to visit will be open. Also, with a new location will come a new phone number. Crocker said those unable to reach the courthouse after Jan. 20 using its current number should call 618-435-9800, its new phone number.

While the move is on time, Crocker said the demolition date for the current courthouse had to be pushed back. Originally scheduled for February, Crocker said the project manager and the architect encouraged the board to lump in demolition with the building contractor’s job. It is believed this will save money. Crocker said there is a lot of salvage he and others want to see done in the old building.

“It probably won’t be torn down until sometime this summer,” Crocker said, adding that this portion of the project has not yet gone out for bids.

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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