Tucked away on the second floor behind the court administration offices, the last remaining bit of unused space in the Hall County courthouse has no floors or ceilings.
Not for long.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved funding Thursday for a $1.7 million project that will turn that space into the new jury assembly room.
Court administrator Jason Stephenson said the judges began discussing the project around 2018-2019 following the addition of fifth Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden.
The project was sparked by the “growth in both case numbers and the number of trial weeks” as well as having a fifth judge, Stephenson said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 12,000-15,000 jurors would be summoned each year, and roughly 40 out of the total 52 weeks next year are tentatively scheduled for a trial, Stephenson said.
The current jury assembly room seats 130 people at full capacity, and the new one would hold more than 250 people.
Stephenson said the hope is that a bigger jury assembly room will help “efficiently check in jurors and get them to the right courtrooms.”
“This would finish out the last shell space in the building,” Stephenson said. “We’ve been here 20 years, and this is the last unfinished area that will allow us to maximize the use of the space.”
As far as ideas for the current jury assembly room, one plan includes using the space as an additional courtroom for civil and domestic hearings.
With the approval by the commissioners, work will kick off next week with pre-construction meetings and supply orders.
The $1.7 million price tag is more than what was previously budgeted four years ago, something Stephenson attributed to increased construction costs seen elsewhere.
Beyond building out the space with floors and ceilings, the jury assembly room also needs audio/visual equipment.
Stephenson said they are planning on a roughly six-month buildout, well aware that there are possible delays due to supply-chain issues.
The courts have sworn in three judges this year: two judges in Juvenile Court and one in Probate Court.
“We are quickly outgrowing and have outgrown in a lot of ways the current courthouse and the annex,” Stephenson said.