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First look at new home
Governor to speak at ceremony on Tuesday
1 Courthouse pic1
The new Dawson County Government Center on Shoal Creek Road will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday with a ribbon cutting celebration. Gov. Nathan Deal will deliver the keynote address. - photo by Michele Hester Dawson Community News

After years of planning and nearly 24 months of construction, the new Dawson County Government Center will open next week.

A ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, with Gov. Nathan Deal delivering the keynote address.

"Out of 159 counties in the state, it's difficult to get the governor to come out for an event like this," said County Manager Kevin Tanner.

"Of course, his son Jason Deal is one of our Superior Court judges and also runs our drug court program, so we are thankful to have him with us."

Speaker of the House David Ralston, who represents a portion of Dawson County in the Georgia General Assembly, is also scheduled to address the gathering.

After the ceremony, the public is invited to take self-guided tours of the building that will bring all offices of county government under one roof.

"Many of these parts of the building after we move in will not be accessible to the general public," Tanner said. "But for this day, they will be able to see them."

For those who cannot attend the morning event, the government center will be open from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday for public tours.

County commissioners, administration, department heads and senior staff will be at both events to field questions and offer assistance as visitors find their way through the 111,000-square-foot facility.

Bob Ivey, project manager, said he believes visitors will be impressed the moment they walk in.

"We have four courtrooms, an assembly room and grand jury room, in addition to county offices, tax assessor's, tax commissioner, clerk of courts, sheriff's office services division, as well as magistrate court, probate court and superior court all in one building," he said.

The new center replaces the county's current courthouse, which was built in 1978. That structure is scheduled for demolition this spring to make room for a secure, judicial parking lot.

"This building is built to last right at 100 years," Ivey said. "The stone you see on the first floor, each one of those stones weighs 550 pounds, so this is built to last."

The facility features 800 tons of steel and walls of 8-inch concrete. It is 110 feet from the ground to the foot of the statue on the dome.

It was also built with cost in mind, according to Ivey.

"Every line item that we did came in under budget," he said. "At $139 a square foot, I don't think you'll ever see another courthouse built for that, not at this caliber."

Voters approved the government center by 87.4 percent as the top priority project when extending the county's 1-cent sales tax in 2007.

At $15.4 million, the price is one of the lowest per square foot in the state in more than a decade, according to county officials.

Workers broke ground on Jan. 21, 2010.

Tanner said he is excited to see the project near completion.

"We had a vision. Our leadership, present and past in the county, had an understanding of the need for this facility," Tanner said.

"The citizens through passing SPLOST V with an 87 plus percent vote understood this was a needed project. Anyone who's had jury duty in the existing courthouse or has visited the courthouse knows this."

Tanner encouraged the community to take part in Tuesday's grand opening celebration.

"We're inviting all of our citizens out," he said. "We'd especially like to extend a special invitation to all the young people in the community. School is out that day.

"I think it's a great opportunity for them to come out for what most likely will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a building like this opened in their community and a building they'll use for the rest of their lives as they come in and do county business in Dawson County."

Workers will begin moving into the new building a day after the grand opening.

"The next morning, county administration will begin their official move to the new facility, followed by the tax commissioner's office and clerk of courts," Ivey said.

The judicial division will move from the current courthouse once the security plan is in place.

"By the end of January, depending on the court schedule, everyone should be moved in," Ivey said.