HARRISVILLE - Officials in Ritchie County are making plans to build a multi-million dollar judicial annex. The project, which has been discussed by officials for more than 20 years, has not become a reality, but is getting closer.
"It's a million dollars closer than it has been," said Ritchie County Prosecutor Judi McCullough.
Lavada Williamson, president of the Ritchie County Commission, said officials are working toward constructing a $4.5 million judicial annex.
Williamson said the court officials have run out of space. Space in the Harrisville courthouse was already tight.
"For some time the courts in Ritchie County have not had the square footage needed to provide the family law master, the circuit judge and the magistrate," she said.
Williamson said things were compounded when the old library - used for magistrate and family court offices) -was damaged by the derecho this summer. The damage forced magistrate officials to relocate to a building on Main Street in Harrisville. The county's family law master is using one of the circuit court judge's conference rooms.
McCullough said when circuit court and family court are both in session, the courthouse is an overcrowded madhouse.
Williamson said county officials have been trying for 20 years to build a new annex to accommodate officials, but the project has not always been popular with residents.
"It has been very controversial," she said. "It costs a lot of money."
"But just about everything is in Ritchie County," McCullough said. "Get enough people in a room and they will fight over a lunch menu."
McCullough thinks part of the controversy stems from the commission's $100,000 purchase of a house to move the WVU Extension office.
"A lot of people thought it was a frivolous purchase," she said.
McCullough admits she was confused by the purchase at first but realized getting the extension office out of the courthouse basement freed up a lot of square footage.
"It sounds boring, but it allowed the county to scale down the size of the annex needed. The $100,000 house saved about five times that much on the cost of the annex," McCullough said.
Williamson said commissioners have been able to set aside about a million dollars for courthouse capital improvements. County officials are hoping the rest of the money, about $3.5 million, for the proposed annex will be funded through rural development.
Officials have submitted architectural and designs plans for 13,000-square-foot annex to state officials for review. Williamson said additional state officials will also have to review the plans.
McCullough said it's imperative the proposed annex conform with state Supreme Court requirements. She said if the annex failed to comply with any of the requirements, the state would not pay the county rent for the magistrate and family court facilities.
"If the Supreme Court doesn't pay, family and magistrate court rent we will pay for it. (The county taxpayers) will foot the bills."
Once the annex is complete, officials plan to shuffle some offices around. Williamson said they plan to expand the courtroom to provide large space for the judge. The prosecutor's office will be moved from the courthouse to annex.
There is no timetable for groundbreaking on the annex, which if approved, will be built on the site of the old library.
"It has been coming together in small pieces," Williamson said.
For now, officials are working to demolish the old library, removing asbestos. Williamson said the cost to remove just the asbestos is about $32,000.
"That's on the front burner right now," she said.