You’d never know from looking at the outside, but the 1961 portion of the Whitfield County Courthouse is in the middle of a massive $6 million renovation on the inside.
Starting last February, crews from Multiplex Construction Co. out of Duluth stripped the inside of the 45,000-square-foot, three-story building all the way down to the concrete floors and outer walls, and now they’ve started the rebuilding process that is expected to be completed early next year.
A recent walk through the building revealed workers busy digging out concrete on the ground floor, and metal wall studs already in place on the middle floor, offering an early look at the new layout of offices.
Acting County Administrator Kent Benson has been overseeing the 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) project in his normal role as county engineer and said construction remains on target to be completed by early 2022.
“Everything was removed completely — all plumbing, electrical, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), down to the concrete floors and walls,” Benson said during a tour.
Removal of asbestos was completed by April, allowing the start of interior demolition that was completed in early August. That cleared the way to begin rebuilding the interior to new specifications.
Once completed, the ground floor will house the Public Defender’s Office as well as a new sallyport that will allow inmates to be securely moved from a sheriff’s vehicle driven inside the building via a new elevator to the courtroom on the top floor.
The middle floor will include a portion of the District Attorney’s Office, a meeting room for the county commission and storage of election voting machines, as well as a space for future expansion of judicial functions to be decided by the judges.
On the top floor, the juror assembly room will be rebuilt in its former location, but at the request of the judges, the main courtroom is the only part of the building that isn’t being renovated, other than the installation of new HVAC and sprinkler systems.
The renovation will bring the 1961 portion of the courthouse up to modern standards, Benson said. When the courthouse was expanded in 2005, a matching brick wall was constructed around the outer perimeter of the old building, which received only minor cosmetic upgrades inside. Eventually, mold became a problem because of the outdated systems that remained.
The new HVAC system will be state of the art, higher efficiency, with “a lot less duct work with much less opportunity for any kind of mold growth within the duct work,” Benson said. The system will also include bipolar ionization units to help remove bacteria and viruses from the air, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the county is working on a design that will retrofit the same type of equipment for the HVAC system in the newer portion of the courthouse.
The project will also include new evidence presentation equipment and high-efficiency lighting.
“We’re looking at the end of February to finish,” Benson said. “As with any other construction that’s going on right now, there have been some supply chain issues for some of their materials. But Multiplex did a good job of ordering their steel studs and other materials that people are having trouble getting. They ordered them early, stored them on a space owned by the county and had them on site ready to use when needed.”