Consider it justice for the justice system, said officials and others who attended the grand opening of the Dickson County Justice Center on Sunday, Nov. 15.
“What it means to me is that the court systems are finally getting recognized,” Circuit Court Clerk Pam Lewis said as she showed off her portion of the building, on the top floor of the 70,000-square-foot, three-level structure in Charlotte.
County Mayor Bob Rial and other elected officials were on hand for the event. The County Commission voted to fund $25 million for the project in February 2019.
“Dickson County has needed this new facility for years,” Rial said in a press release. “The facility is state-of-the-art on the inside, but it maintains the look and feel of Charlotte and the surrounding buildings in our historic square that make it so special.”
The press release was issued by a public relations company representing Wold | HFR Design, the architecture and engineering firm behind the project. The building is scheduled to open for operations Monday, Nov. 30, according to the release — a date announced by Rial previously.
The building will be the new home for the Chancery, Circuit, General Sessions, Juvenile and Probate courts.
Those courts currently occupy three buildings in Charlotte, and uniting them will streamline security procedures, Dickson County sheriff’s Capt. Andy Davis said.
“Right now, we’re securing three buildings,” said Davis, who oversees the sheriff’s Special Services Division with jurisdiction over courtroom security, inmate transports and more. “Having all the courts under one roof will make it easier to maintain security.”
The new role for the 1835 courthouse building, which is the oldest operating courthouse in Tennessee, has not been announced.
There’s one public entrance in the new building. Doors open into a lobby, where there will be a baggage scanner and metal detector, Davis said. People cleared will then go through a second set of doors and move about the building.
In the basement there are separate holding cells for juvenile and adult detainees, Davis said. The juvenile court is on the basement level, and for adults, there’s a dedicated elevator for sheriff’s personnel to escort inmates to courtrooms on the ground floor and top floor, he said.
The buildings that are currently in use as courts don’t just pose security issues. They’re also in less-than-stellar condition, and offer only cramped conditions for many employees.
Soon those employees will enjoy spacious work areas. They’ll be swiping fobs instead of turning keys to get through doors from public hallways into office areas. There’s even an elevator just for judges and staff, along with a bank of elevators for the public.
The building includes five courtrooms, plus a large, multi-use room that can be used as a courtroom. That room, which has a partition option, can also be used for jury pool assembly, grand jury functions or other purposes.
The building has a lot of new furniture, though recently purchased furniture from existing court offices will be moved along with computer equipment, boxes of case files and more, said county Emergency Management Agency Director Rob Fisher.
Fisher’s agency and the county maintenance department, run by WH Batey, are both working on the moving process, Fisher said. Court staff members have been boxing things up and the transporting was due to start this week, he said.
The EMA and Maintenance Department will be assisted by inmate work crews supervised by sheriff’s personnel, Fisher said.
Fisher said the Dickson County Justice Center is a triumph for the county.
“This is the best option you could have,” he said. “It’s perfect. And it’s a beautiful building.”
Stephen Griffin, principal at Wold | HFR, said in the press release: “Our team, along with T.W. Frierson, the project’s construction manager, worked closely with the County to design and construct this building and maintain the look of Charlotte’s Courthouse Square Historic District, while increasing functionality” of the court system.
“We’re pleased we were able to bring the County’s vision to life,” he said.