Tractors began moving dirt within moments of Dawson County officials breaking ground on a new courthouse and government center Thursday afternoon.
The new $15.4 million facility, paid for with a 1 cent tax, will bring all county government under one roof. It is expected to be completed in about 18 months, officials said.
“Every citizen of this country and of Dawson County has a spirit of liberty. No one can question that,” said Northeastern Judicial Chief Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller. “Nothing represents that spirit of liberty more than our justice system. The focal point of a community has been, and I think will always be, their courthouse.”
Joined by the circuit’s Superior Court and Juvenile Court judges as well as circuit prosecutors, county and court staff and citizens of the community, Fuller thanked voters for approving the project and allowing justice to be served in the most efficient manner.
“We want to sincerely and heartfelt thank the leaders of Dawson County and the Dawson County citizens for giving us the opportunity to have a new courthouse facility,” he said.
Commission Chairman Mike Berg said he was pleased with the number of citizens, court officials and county staff that attended the ceremony.
“The larger-than-expected crowd shows the interest of the community to want to build a facility for the future,” Berg said. “This is a joint effort of so many people working together.”
The county’s current courthouse was built in 1977, and Court Administrator Reggie Forrester said it served the community well.
“It certainly fit the needs of this county when it was constructed, but we’ve grown and continue to grow,” he said, noting additional space is needed in most of the county’s judicial and government offices. “To meet the growth of the county, we really need the space so we can operate efficiently and effectively.”
Superior Court Judge Jason Deal said he is excited to see the project begin.
“It’s needed here in Dawson County and will be a nice improvement to this community for years to come. It’s time,” he said.
Probate Judge Jennifer Burt agreed.
“I’ve been here 20-something years now, and I know for years we’ve met with different architects and waiting for this to happen,” Burt said. “We have been waiting for this for a long time.”
District Attorney Lee Darragh and his staff are looking forward to having additional space and room to grow in the new building.
“I can say, on behalf of the district attorney’s office, we are very much looking forward to the new facility, so that all of us have an adequate and effective space to work in and provide prosecution services for the citizens of Dawson County,” he said.
For Sheriff Billy Carlisle and his deputies, who serve as court security, the new courthouse serves many purposes, primarily the safety of those using the building.
“The way we are doing it right now — we have to take inmates outside and we have to mingle them in with the general population,” Carlisle said. “With this new courthouse, we’ll have a tunnel built from the jail into the courthouse, and the prisoners will never go outside. It’s really going to work out better for everyone.”
Architects and construction experts working on the project say the $139 per square foot construction price “is the lowest in the state in the past 12 years for a building of this type,” Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner said.
He said he is confident citizens will be happy with the end result.
“We started out with a construction budget of $30 million and after it was all said and done, and with the economy and with all the other things we were able to do, it came in at less than $16 million, so we’re thankful for that and that we’re able to move forward,” he said.
The new 111,000-square-foot facility will face Shoal Creek Road and will be built in the parking lot of the existing courthouse, which will eventually be demolished upon completion of the new building.