Bibb County chooses architects

Atlanta-based firm Cooper Carry working with Macon’s Brittain, Thompson, Bray, Brown Inc., received the nod Monday from the Bibb County Commission as the architects for the county courthouse project.

Both firms have experience working in Macon and Middle Georgia and on judicial projects. Brittain, Thompson, Bray, Brown has worked on addition and alteration projects at the Bibb County Courthouse since the 1970s.

The team was one of 23 considered for the job. A selection committee made up of community leaders narrowed the pool, and commissioners interviewed six finalists last week.

Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said he received input from all the commissioners, and their “clear choice” was the Cooper Carry team.

“I felt like the edge should go to Cooper Carry and the team with Brittain, Thompson, Bray and Brown because of their considerable knowledge about the existing courthouse,” said Commissioner Elmo Richardson, who was charged with leading the search.

Commissioner Bert Bivins was the sole commissioner to vote against the team, but he declined to say why.

“I don’t want to discuss that right now,” he said.

The Cooper Carry team is expected to complete a needs assessment study, review site locations, renovate the existing courthouse and, if necessary, design and build a new one.

The commission’s next step is to define a scope of work and agree on a contract. After a feasibility study is complete, the next task will be negotiated.

Cooper Carry, founded in 1960, provided the master planning and architecture for the Douglas County Courthouse and the Jackson County Judicial Center. It also worked on renovations to the Baldwin County Courthouse.

“We have great experience doing courtrooms,” Jerome Cooper, principal and chairman of the board for Cooper Carry, told commissioners during the interview.

There are three areas of information the team would like to gather for the courthouse project: Bibb’s goals and objectives, needs assessment and site analysis, Cooper said.

The team will look at a 2007 space utilization study and “take it to the next level” by looking at population trends, caseload studies, space needs and having discussions with commissioners and those involved in the courts, said Scott Keller, program consultant for Cooper Carry.

“We want to make sure the courthouse and administrative office buildings are safe and secure and efficient and economical to build,” he said.

Space for possible future expansion will be kept in mind as well, he said.

Renovating the current building to make it secure for the courts would be “tricky” because of the different pathways needed for inmates, the public and the judges, Keller said.

However, Sammy Thompson, president of Brittain, Thompson, Bray, Brown and principal adviser on the project, said the courthouse can be renovated.

“I know more about this building than any other architect in the community because I’ve worked on it my entire career,” he said. “This is a beautiful building, and it can be restored and put back to use.”

Cooper Carry was one of a few firms that suggested building a new courthouse on the corner of First and Mulberry streets and connecting it to the current courthouse, which would hold administrative offices, through the Grand Opera House.

Richardson said that idea was not new, and it was suggested in the 2007 space utilization study. Since that report, the commission has purchased land for about $3 million near the county jail with the intention of using it to build a new justice center. Commissioners have since said they will review all options.

“We will explore any option that the commissioners feel is a viable option,” Thompson said.

A previous estimate, which is several years old, put the cost of building a new courthouse at about $80 million. Commissioners hope to pay for any renovations or construction with a new special purpose local option sales tax. A new penny tax would have to be put to a vote by county residents, which could occur as early as July 2010.

The current courthouse on Mulberry Street has been in disrepair for years, and earlier studies indicate the courts may have outgrown their space.

As a result, Bibb’s Superior Court judges have issued a court order to provide appropriate facilities by July 1, 2012.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.