Courthouse designs expected in a month
Design ideas for a new Morgan County Courthouse will be presented to the public in a month or so, County Commission President Glen Stotler told the crowd at last week's meeting to gather input about a replacement courthouse.
About 70 people attended the January 23 session at Berkeley Springs High School auditorium. The meeting gave citizens a chance to meet Architect Tom Potts, hear what's been done so far and offer ideas.
Potts, who works with Silling & Associates, has suggested a new building of 33,000-square-feet, which was estimated to cost $11 million.
"It is the single most important building in this county," Potts said of the courthouse.
The new building would replace the former county government complex, which consisted of 22,000-sq.-ft. in six buildings, most of which burned or were damaged in a fire on August 8.
The new structure would include a clock tower and have a yellow brick facade, though it will not necessarily look like the previous building, which will be demolished soon.
Not all county offices will be in the new courthouse. After studying the needs of various offices, officials decided to leave the Sheriff's Law Enforcement Office at the Rescue Squad Building where they have been located since the fire. That way, the comings and goings of police cars are removed from the center of town, and the cars do not take up parking spots.
An addition will eventually be built at the Rescue Squad Building for the sheriff's personnel.
The Morgan County Commission expects to move into what is now the Magistrate and Family Court Center (the old post office). That way, all court proceedings will take place in the courthouse, with modern security systems.
Make it fit the place
When the public got their chance, Leonard Baron was first of several people who wanted to be sure the new building wouldn't look out of place.
"The architectural design of our courthouse fits Berkeley Springs," Baron said of the present structure, which was remodeled and rebuilt from an earlier courthouse about a century ago.
Baron said that if they needed more space, they might think of a three-story building, instead of a two-story one.
Of the 17 people who spoke, many said they were glad that a traditional-looking courthouse – something that felt similar to the previous building — is being planned.
John Petersen said he was encouraged by the architect's work as shown on the Silling & Associates website, as well as by the comments that evening about traditional design.
It is important for the heart of town to have a central piece that has tourist appeal, since the building will have an impact on the downtown economy for a long time, Petersen said.
Carol Breeden asked if the building could be set back a little from the sidewalk, allowing for a public area in front with some seating and landscaping.
She suggested the county acquire the Stotler lot, where offices are now housed in trailers, and possibly adjoining property for a parking garage.
Stotler said various parking ideas are being looked at.
Energy saving ideas
Mauricio Medina said Berkeley Springs "is by far the most beautiful town I've ever lived in," so he is concerned that the courthouse fits the character of the place.
He hoped "green building" ideas would be used, particularly ideas that would lead to wise energy use.
Picking up on this theme, Charlie Biggs said they could probably save a quarter of the $26,000 spent for electricity last year if they used energy-saving techniques and innovations.
Biggs and Randall Ashelman suggested looking at ideas such as geothermal heating and solar panels.
Good window design would allow more daylight into offices, Biggs said. He added that if the windows opened, they could cut down on air conditioning much of the time.
Representing the Berkeley Springs Fire Department, J. J. Steiner said a new building would eliminate many of the problems with the old complex. He said firefighters would like to review plans for sprinklers and fire safety.
Save the walls?
Bill Carey noted the problems in the old courtroom with noise from the traffic on U.S. 522 and hoped the new building would be soundproofed. He questioned whether a 2,000-sq.-ft. circuit courtroom, as being considered, is too small.
Carey wanted the commissioners to look into saving some of the old walls from the burned courthouse.
He felt they should have gotten public input before seeking bids to demolish the old building.
Architect Potts, however, said that using the 100-year-old walls would limit the design possibilities for a new building.
Carey also asked the commissioners not to go "security crazy," a criticism that has been leveled against a new courthouse in Berkeley County.
Commissioner Stotler agreed that it is probably easier to get into the White House than the Berkeley County
Dawn White said that while the courthouse design needs to allow for future growth, it doesn't all have to be built now. Whatever is built "will get filled up and you'll need more," she said.
White felt community resources for building a courthouse are "crippled" because of the burden of the county's special school levy.
As the meeting wound down, Commissioner Stotler said he expected a second meeting in about a month. At that time, plans and design ideas for the new courthouse will be spread out on tables for citizens to look at.
Once a design has been chosen, a model of the courthouse will be available, Stotler said.
Asked by Jim DuPont if the architect's website would include plans and drawings, Potts said that might be possible.
The Silling & Associates website is: www.silling.com.