Richard Bennett leads effort for new courthouse for Forsyth County

Forsyth County

Forsyth County officials have been given another option of what to do with the county’s courthouse.

In September, officials were supposed to have made a decision on whether to renovate the current Hall of Justice at the corner of Main and Second streets or start from scratch at one of two locations.

The Forsyth County Bar Association presented the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners with a third possible location — right next door to the Forsyth County Government Center.

The vacant lot next to the government center on Chestnut Street is owned by Edward Hall LLC, which is affiliated with Viking Properties, the owner of Victoria Hall and Albert Hall on Chestnut between First and Second streets.

At the county commissioners’ meeting last Monday, the bar association’s Richard Bennett presented a rendering of the site with a nine-story building designed to look like the government center.

“County commissioners have a tough job to figure out what to do as far as a courthouse is concerned,” Bennett said. “What we’re trying to do is help the county commissioners because a courthouse is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for a community.”

The rendering wasn’t intended to represent an actual new courthouse but was created to show how a courthouse might look and fit on the property, Bennett said.

Previous to Viking’s ownership, an apartment building stood on the property. The building burned down in 1998, the result of debris left smoldering overnight. The building also was once R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s Building No. 256.

In 2003, Viking Properties proposed a $7.5 million, 60,000-square-foot building at that corner, a plan that never came to fruition.

That block of Chestnut was once heralded as the gateway to the Piedmont Triad Research Park, which later became the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

The Forsyth County Hall of Justice opened in 1975 and has 163,000 square feet spread over seven floors. Court officials have said the courthouse doesn’t have enough space and courtrooms to accommodate the large number of people who come through the doors, resulting in security issues. Judicial officials have had to scramble for courtrooms for DWI court.

Commissioners have heard three other options, all of which would cost more than $100 million.

The least expensive option would be to renovate the existing courthouse and then expand it by building a new building or tower. That would cost $112 million, according to a study done by Walter Robbs Pierce & Callahan, a local architectural firm.

Another option would be to build an L-shaped courthouse using the Piedmont Federal Savings Bank Building at 16 W. Third St. It would encompass 10 to 12 floors and have limited, secure parking. The cost: $142 million.

The most expensive option is building a 12- to 13-story courthouse on a parking lot across Second Street near the Forsyth County jail. It would include either a bridge or a tunnel to move inmates between the jail and the courthouse. That plan would cost $145 million.

Commissioner David Plyler, the board’s chairman, said commissioners have put off making a decision on what to do with the Hall of Justice until it has information on all three sites.

County Manager Dudley Watts said he expects staff and commissioners to pick the issue back up in January.