County eyes additional courthouse improvements

NEW CUMBERLAND – With security, heating and cooling improvements to the Hancock County Courthouse completed, county officials are turning their attention to a new roof for the courthouse annex.

In January, the county was awarded a $97,600 grant from the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority to replace the roof, insulation and coping on the 1968 annex.

Hancock County commissioners expect to receive official word of the award from WVCFIA Executive Director Melissa Garretson Smith on Thursday. The grant comes at an opportune time for commissioners, who are overseeing a series of capital improvements to the aging courthouse.

“It’s great news,” Commissioner Dan Greathouse said.

Before the roofing work can begin, however, commissioners will have to solicit bids for an architect to do design work, said Robert Vidas, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communications.

Vidas said workers from Kell’s Heating & Air Conditioning, of Chester, recently completed work on the courthouse’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. The project cost came in over the original Kell’s bid of $58,320, he said.

The HVAC systems in the old stone courthouse, which dates back to the 1920s, were in need of upgrading because of their age and high maintenance costs. The new system will make heating and cooling more efficient for the section of the courthouse that houses Circuit Court Judge Martin Gaughan’s courtroom, the assessor’s office and clerk’s office, Vidas said.

The county courthouse is actually a two-building complex that includes a three-story annex, completed in 1968, that is connected to the old section via a walkway.

An architectural assessment of the courthouse done by Silling Associates, of Charleston, in 2012 included a recommendation that the HVAC system be overhauled. Commissioners also are addressing other suggested improvements contained in the Silling report, Vidas said.

Probably the most visible improvement is the recent completion of a new security system for the newly redesigned courthouse entrance. Starting Monday, courthouse visitors will have to submit to metal detector screening before they can enter the building.

Funding for the security equipment – additional cameras, a walk-through metal detector, an X-ray machine – came from a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

The grant required a $90,000 county match, which commissioners used to pay for the construction of the new entrance. Greathouse said a grand opening is scheduled for Thursday.

Commissioners also want to install a second elevator to improve handicapped accessibility to certain parts of the courthouse. Because the two buildings’ floors do not align evenly, the elevator in the annex does not provide direct access to the old courthouse.

Silling’s assessment determined that the elevator could be placed between the two buildings; however, such a project could not be completed until the 911 Dispatch Center moves to its new location, Vidas said.

“The only logical place to resolve the problem requires access through what is now the 911 Center,” Vidas said. “The elevator probably will wait until the 911 Center is built and we can move the 911 people out.”

Greathouse said the second elevator likely will be the last piece of the courthouse improvement puzzle.

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