New Florence County Judicial Center being built across from county complex

New Florence County Judicial Center being built across from county complex

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Progress is being made in the courtrooms in the city of Florence and it's all for better safety.

It's happening on Irby Street, where the Florence County Complex has been for almost 50 years. Officials are taking out the courtrooms and moving them into their own brand new judicial center.

Florence County Councilman James Schofield, who has been on the governing body for 10 years, said the Supreme Court and the county judges were asking for this for a long time. He wanted to help make it happen, as growth made it to where there was not enough space on the top floors of the complex.

It is so outdated it was deemed unsafe.

"We felt like it was such a security issue and such a fire hazard with all those people in the top of the building," Schofield said. "It was just a bad situation.

Over the last year, Schofield started a committee to get the ball rolling and fix the issue. He included main players like the circuit court judge, the clerk of court and the solicitor.

He said not all of the court employees will move over to the new building. Some of the staff with the solicitor's office and administrator's office will stay in the county complex building on the top floors

Schofield said the office space is fine; it's just the courtroom that is a problem.

"You used to see prisoners in the hallways, moving them to the courtroom," he said. "You'll never see that in the new building. As you can imagine, having 300 hundred people on the 10th and 11th floor crowded in the hallways and stuff. It was just not safe it may have been what was drawn and done in those times, but today it takes much more security than that."

The 120,000-square-foot building project costs around $40 million dollars. Schofield said it will be a state-of-the-art glass and stone building, with the most noticeable thing being the rotunda, which will house the main entrance.

While the current courthouse screens the public at two separate entrances, the new judicial center will have its own restricted parking lot to help alleviate parking problems around downtown.

As for the current space, the county will renovate the top floors and lease it out to state agencies or private businesses, which will also help pay off the bonds to help fund the new judicial sooner.

"If the public would deem so fit, when we do the capital project sales tax again is to pay off the bonds on the courthouse with the penny sales tax and use it as a project," Schofield said. "That way we can help lower the millage back down from what we put on to build the courthouse."

He also added he took some ideas from the Horry County Courthouse. Construction schedule plans are expected to be completed by January 2018.

Copyright 2016 WMBF News. All rights reserved.