Tractors began moving dirt within moments of Dawson County officials breaking ground on a new courthouse and government center Jan. 28.
The $15.4 million project, paid for with a 1-cent sales tax, will bring all of county government under one roof. It is expected to be completed in about 18 months, officials said.
The 111,000-square-foot facility will face Shoal Creek Road and will be built in the parking lot of the existing courthouse, which will eventually be demolished.
“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 residents, Fuller thanked voters for approving the project and allowing justice to be served in the most efficient manner.
“We want to sincerely and heartfelt thank the leaders of Dawson County and the Dawson County citizens for giving us the opportunity to have a new courthouse facility,” he said.
Commission Chairman Mike Berg said he was pleased with the turnout for the 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, which was built in 1977, served the community well, said Court Administrator Reggie Forrester.
“It certainly fit the needs of this county when it was constructed, but we’ve grown and continue to grow,” he said, noting most of the county’s judicial and government offices need more space.
“To meet the growth of the county, we really need the space so we can operate efficiently and effectively.”
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 using 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.”
Architects working on the project say the $139-per-square-foot construction price is “the lowest in the state in the past 12 years for a building of this type,” Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner said.
He said he is confident the community 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,” he said. “So we’re thankful for that and that we’re able to move forward.”
Savings realized in the courthouse project will also allow the county to pay off debt from when the law enforcement center was built, without having to borrow any additional funds, Tanner said.
“Which gives the county some breathing room in these difficult times,” he said.