The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, WV, May 2015 — A space utilization study of the Harrison County Courthouse is officially complete, and the architect’s recommendation remains the same — renovate the old jailhouse into a judicial complex.

Last year, the Harrison County Commission hired Charleston-based architects Silling Architects to put together a proposal for making the most of the space available in the courthouse and the old jail annex. Holding a series of meetings with local officials over a number of months, Silling has recommended more or less throughout the process that the commission contemplate a total renovation of the annex into a state-of-the-art facility to house all the county’s judicial functions — a project estimated to cost roughly $20 million.

Tom Potts, principal of Silling, discussed the architecture firm’s recommendation during Thursday’s commission meeting. “What you’ve asked us to do is to analyze the existing courthouse space use and to analyze the use of the annex and to propose a long-term solution for utilizing both facilities,” Potts said. “By and large, what the plan proposes is to take the jail and utilize it primarily as a secure court facility, and to use the courthouse primarily as an administration building.”

Separating the judicial functions from administrative functions would improve security, Potts said. The current courthouse layout doesn’t have a secure method of separating detainees from the public and from staff, whereas the renovated facility could be designed with this kind of separation and security in mind, he said. “New courthouses now have a very efficient and secure method of getting detainees into the building — into a holding component. They’re isolated, and then they’re brought into the courtroom,” Potts said.

The renovation would significantly increase square footage currently allotted to the county’s court functions, he said. The renovations also would allow the county to address “some serious issues” affecting the exterior of the annex, Potts said. The proposed renovation “contemplates a new exterior skin on the building — all new finishes,” Potts said.

Potts noted that Silling has “had extensive reviews with the judges. I think they feel very positive about all the attributes of the proposal and they’re in agreement.”

The commissioners have generally seemed receptive to the proposal in concept, but they haven’t taken any action on Silling’s recommendation. There’s also no concrete plan in place for financing the $20 million cost, according to County Administrator Willie Parker.

Commissioner Frank “Chunki” Angotti, who expressed some concern about the total cost, asked Potts if any grants might be available for this kind of renovation. Potts indicated that the county would more or less have to finance the total on its own.