Charlotte-based architectural firm Ware Bonsall will review the courthouse and determine if there is enough room for expansion.
The Davidson County Board of Commissioners approved Ware Bonsall’s contract for the project during its meeting Tuesday.
Cost of the analysis project will be approximately $57,370 and will look at accommodation needs for the jail, courts and sheriff’s office. Surveying will be done to incorporate additional parking that would be needed if the current site on West Center Street was expanded.
In 2007, the county contracted Ware Bonsall to conduct a space needs study, which detailed how functional county buildings were, including the current courthouse.
Clerk of Court Brian Shipwash made a strong case for expansion of the courthouse versus moving to a new site.
When initial talks of moving the jail began, it was due in large part to the overpopulation of inmates. In the summer of 2008, the jail’s population peaked at approximately 390 inmates. Capacity of the jail is listed at 298.
In early 2009, the judicial district was split into two districts. Davidson and Davie counties became
District 22B while Iredell and Alexander counties became District 22A, effectively lowering the number of inmates held at the Davidson County jail. The split freed up courthouse staff to move district and superior
court trials through the judicial system quicker and therefore inmates were held for fewer days.
In August 2009, Shipwash presented a presentation by the Judicial Executive Committee called The Main Street Option. Shipwash acknowledged the judicial split but also argued that the judicial system was lowering the jail population.
“The work of our judiciary system dramatically decreased the jail population,” he said.
Shipwash said he would like to keep the complex together and downtown in Lexington if possible and believes expansion is a viable solution.
“One of the things that is being looked at that was not previously is the potential use of the Lexcom building in this whole scenario. And because we were fortunate enough to not go out and throw up a jail at Duracell and now that we’ve got all this time to plan and make a good decision, we may be able to bring it all back to a single campus.”
Windstream purchased Lexcom last year and plans to move most operations to other cities. Lexcom’s headquarters building is on North State Street.
The old Duracell plant on U.S. Highway 64 East was one of six sites for consideration of a new jail site that was proposed to the Jail Steering Committee in August 2009.
Even though the jail population has been controlled, Davidson County Sheriff David Grice said the jail’s population has remained around 220.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Grice said about expanding at the present location. “Would it be the most logical space to put a courthouse? Yes, because this is where the courthouse has been. Would this be the most logical place to put a jail? I don’t think so. Could the court space go here? Perhaps. Would it be enough room down the road? I don’t know. This just depends on the growth.”
With the current jail having been expanded about 10 years ago, the question is whether additional jail expansion is more cost efficient than moving inmates to a new location that would allow for growth.
Commissioner Sam Watford said that question will be a decisive factor whatever plan of action the board takes on future plans.
“We will receive updates from month to month from Ware Bonsall to see what is the best for our dollar,” Watford said.
“I can go either way; nothing is cheap about building a jail. It’s less expensive to build a jail like we started to with the Duracell plant.”