Tractors began moving dirt moments after Dawson County officials broke ground on a new courthouse and government center Thursday afternoon.
The new $15.4 million 1-cent tax approved facility, which will bring all county government under one roof, is expected to be completed within about
18 months, according to officials.
"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 thank the leaders of Dawson County and the Dawson County citizens for giving us the opportunity to have a new courthouse facility," he said.
Dawson County Commission Chair Mike Berg was pleased with the number of residents, court officials and county staff that attended the ground breaking 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 according to Court Administrator Reggie Forrester 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 the 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 have been 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 utilizing 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."
According to Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner, architects and construction experts working on the project said the $139 per square foot construction price is the lowest in the state in the past 12 years for a building of this type.
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," Tanner said.
The new 111,000 square foot facility will face Shoal Creek Road and will be constructed in the parking lot of the existing courthouse, which will eventually be demolished upon completion of the new building.