State and local dignitaries gathered with hundreds of residents Tuesday for the dedication and grand opening of the new Dawson County Government Center.
Delivering the keynote address, Gov. Nathan Deal called the building in downtown Dawsonville a testament to a progressive community and one that is going to continue to prosper.
"It is in this building that those core decisions, core functions of what we call self-government take place," Deal said. "And how fortunate we are that we still have that ability to be able to come to a place and be able to do those things that keep us a free people."
The new 111,000-square-foot center brings all offices of county government under one roof and replaces the current courthouse, which was built in 1978.
That structure is scheduled for demolition this spring to make room for a secure, judicial parking lot.
At $15.4 million, which came from 1-cent sales tax revenue, the cost to build the government center is one of the lowest per square foot in the state in more than a decade, according to county officials.
During his address, Deal recalled cases he had tried as a young prosecutor in the county's historic courthouse on the town square.
"I was also there for the ribbon cutting of the other courthouse [in 1978]," he said.
Those memories, Deal said, were the embodiment of Dawson County at the time.
"A courthouse is a replica of the people and the times," he said. "They are the place where this idea of self-government, this concept of democracy and representation of the people and things the people hold to be true [happen]."
Georgia's Speaker of the House David Ralston also addressed the crowd.
Ralston, who represents a portion of northern Dawson, said he continues to be impressed with how local leadership has responded to the county's growth.
"During this time, we have seen phenomenal growth here," Ralston said. "I have always been struck with the positive, conservative way that not only the leadership but the people of this community have responded to that growth.
"This building will be a part of their community way into future generations when we are all long gone. I'm honored to help you dedicate this building."
The center was the top priority project in an extension of the 1-cent sales tax, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 2007.
Mike Berg, chairman of the county commission, said leaders were not always in agreement on whether to build the facility.
"But the leadership of the board, the majority of the board, said this was the thing to do," Berg said. "We looked beyond the end of our noses ... we created a vision."
Berg also touched on the legacy of the new facility.
"All of us are going to work here and we're going to be in a better place here, but it's just a building," he said. "The reality is this is really the citizens' building, the citizens of Dawson County."