Bibb County’s new Juvenile Justice center will open Monday, a month ahead of schedule and below budget.
Juvenile Court operations were mostly suspended late last week as employees packed up files, disconnected computers and made the move to the corner of Second and Oglethorpe streets from their tight quarters on the top floor of the Bibb County Courthouse.
Originally there was a $7,092,000 price tag on the special purpose local option sales tax project, but so far it’s about $30,500 below budget, said Clay Murphey, SPLOST project manager. A final accounting isn’t complete, said Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore.
The goal of building the 27,000-square-foot facility was to put all the county’s juvenile justice services under one roof, while also providing extra office space.
In addition to offices associated with Juvenile Court, there’s dedicated space for the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, intake officers for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and the sheriff’s office.
“It’s going to be better in every way, safer for everybody,” said Chief Judge Tom Matthews. “We were so cramped and without the ability to do anything.”
Visitors to the new facility must pass through a metal detector before entering a large waiting area, which is just outside two courtrooms that are more than triple the size of the tiny rooms where juveniles have had their cases heard for years.
Gone are the days when families lined the halls of the courthouse’s top floor, sitting on a few available benches as they waited for cases to be called.
The new building is designed in such a way that youngsters in chains don’t have to walk through the waiting area on their way to a courtroom.
There’s a sally port entrance -- an area where prisoners are delivered by car or van that’s completely sealed while the prisoners are being loaded and unloaded.
Juveniles then will be placed in one of about 10 concrete block-walled holding cells that are monitored by surveillance cameras and equipped with metal benches.
Holding cells used for juveniles at the courthouse were “constantly under attack,” and vandalism by children kept inside them, Matthews said.
When it’s time to go into a courtroom, juveniles will enter through a separate entrance away from the general public. The judge will enter through a third door.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for Monday to officially open the building.
When visitors enter, they will pass underneath a metal beam bearing the signature of many of the people whose dreams and efforts brought the facility into being.
Among the squiggles and curlicues is Matthews’ name.
Although he’s quick to say that many people deserve credit for the facility, he said he’s relieved and proud that after 16 years of consideration, the building finally is opening.
“It’s a moment to kind of rededicate and say ‘OK, now we’ve got what we’ve needed and it’s time to re-energize ourselves,’” said Matthews, who has presided over Bibb County juvenile cases for 18 years.
Moving Juvenile Court is “one of the dominoes” in determining a new office layout in the courthouse, Floore said.
Another “domino” is the impending relocation of the Tax Commissioner’s Office to the former Capital City Bank building at Walnut and Third streets. That move should happen in the next few weeks, he said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.