A groundbreaking ceremony drew a crowd of about 100 people at the location of the new courthouse Thursday afternoon.
The new courthouse, which will be connected to the Summersill building, provides the extra space needed for Onslow County’s growing population.
“It was mandated by a statute to provide facilities for the administrative office of the courts and they’re basically out of space with file cabinets and the working conditions here for the clerks and each year, the case load has just expanded (from population) to the point that we have to have more space,” commissioner Jack Bright told The Daily News.
The contract for the project will be $16,413,219, funded by the county’s capital improvement fund. The completed project will contain four floors and nine courtrooms, according to the ceremony’s program.
During the ceremony, county manager Jeff Hudson said he didn’t expect the construction to be completed before 2018.
“I would hope it would go faster than that, but now with restricted parking, we’ve got a lot of parking issues,” Bright said, adding that the problem is something the Onslow County Board of Commissioners will have to address in the coming months. “The rest of the parking space available (at the courthouse) will be taken up by construction equipment and materials and stuff.”
District Court judge Paul Hardison can attest to the lack of space in the existing courthouse.
“We’ve got files all over the place. We need more space, more courtroom facilities, and we also are having increasing case numbers,” Hardison said.
The judge said the courthouse saw over 600 cases in one courtroom in traffic court alone on Tuesday.
“Today we’ve had almost 500 cases in the same courtroom, and so with the expansion and the number of cases and the personnel that we have and the space that we are limited to, we need the additional space to accommodate the clientele and the personnel here,” Hardison said.
Security was also cited as another reason behind the new courthouse construction.
“This building here when it was built didn’t address security issues at all,” Bright said. “We didn’t have the security issues that we have now, so this courtroom will address that.”
There will be one central entrance, Hardison said. Since there will be extra coverage, the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office will have to address providing extra security, he added.
Robin Bright, district court judicial assistant, said the Summersill building had been constructed in 1976.
Father Gregory Spencer, of Infant of Prague, attended the ceremony to provide its convocation, but said he was excited to see new construction in the area.
“I’ve only been here about six months, but from what I’ve heard, the rooms are small here and (the new building) would be more accommodating,” Spencer said.
During the ceremony, commissioners Jack Bright, Paul Buchanan, Million Heir-Williams, and Barbara Ikner took the stage to toss soil on the new construction site, marking the commencement of building construction. Other courthouse officials and citizens were invited to participate following the commissioners’ initial groundbreaking.
For more information about the new courthouse, visit OnslowCountyNC.gov.