After a decade of efforts, a push for a separate Juvenile Court building in Bibb County is getting traction as the basic design takes shape. Construction could begin this summer.
Juvenile Court Judge Thomas J. Matthews said the current Juvenile Court area forces both young offenders and young victims through crowds of adult criminals in the existing Bibb County Courthouse.
“It’s shameful that we parade children through adult offenders and through large crowds of witnesses to get them from one building to another,” Matthews said. ”We ‘perp walk’ 14-year-olds through people who really ought not to see that.”
The new courthouse, expected to be at least 25,000 square feet, is being planned for Oglethorpe Street a block away from the Bibb County Department of Family and Children Services. Matthews said the new, larger space will allow agencies to collaborate on ways to better help youths.
“I think any problem, the earlier and more effectively it’s addressed, then the less of a problem it becomes,” Matthews said. “At this point we have 13-year-old offenders whose problems have been building for 13 years, and their problems are entrenched. If we can help the child and help the parents earlier, maybe we can head off some of the worst conduct we see.”
But Matthews said about half of the court’s caseload involves children who are the victims of what Matthews called very bad parenting. Those cases can involve even more potential collaborators.
Matthews said some cases could involve a mix of workers from the Department of Family and Children Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the school system, the mental health system, public health, Juvenile Court, court-appointed special advocates, the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office.
All that takes room and privacy, which has been hard to come by in the current Juvenile Court spaces on the fifth floor of the courtroom. The current space of about 12,000 square feet is less than half of what the new courthouse will boast, but it also includes wasted hallway spaces and other inefficient areas.
Architect Bob Brown, other staff members from BTBB Architects of Macon, and colleagues from the Cooper Carry architect offices in Macon are working on the project. Brown said he expects to finalize the plans by the end of next month, but he says the Bibb County Board of Commissioners will have to decide how construction should be handled. The building will likely be completed in mid-2013, Brown said.
Bibb County Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson said the project is budgeted for $6 million. The project is under way now with money borrowed from the county’s general fund, but it will ultimately be paid for with the county’s new special purpose local option sales tax, collection of which will start in March.
Layson said the new courthouse can help the county’s youth crime problem by changing the atmosphere and keeping youths from seeing adult criminality as their next step.
Bibb County commissioners haven’t voted formally, but previously they indicated their interest in letting Juvenile Court use the former Macon Baptist Association building if more space is needed. The county bought properties all over the area near the county jail several years ago when commissioners thought they might build a new courthouse complex there.
Voters soundly rejected a SPLOST referendum in July 2010, which had proposed a new main courthouse near the existing building as well as the Juvenile Court facility on Oglethorpe Street.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.