DARLINGTON, S.C. — A new courthouse for Darlington County took a big step toward becoming a reality Monday when the Darlington County Council gave unanimous approval to a resolution authorizing the county administrator to “engage and seek” an engineering and architectural contract for “the design, construction and completion” of a new courthouse.
During a work session Wednesday, council members reviewed a conceptual floor plan and site plan along with architectural renderings of a proposed courthouse.
The two-story structure envisioned in the plan would include an estimated 38,000 square feet of space and would meet all of the judicial needs of the county, County Administrator Charles Stewart said. Stewart said the cost for the structure as envisioned is estimated at between $13 million and $14 million.
The money to pay for the facility is on hand in the county’s general fund balance, Stewart said. That means the county can pay for the project with available funds without raising property taxes and without a bond to borrow the funds, he said.
Last year, Darlington County voters in a bond referendum rejected a proposal to implement a one-cent sales tax to fund a $20 million courthouse project to replace or refurbish the existing courthouse.
The new proposed project will require no referendum.
The conceptual plans were developed by Michael Baker International, the Columbia engineering and consulting firm that carried out an earlier study that looked at possibilities ranging from refurbishing the existing courthouse to building new facilities to house court and administrative functions. Probable costs for projects outlined in that study ranged from about $20.4 million to a little more than $29 million.
Michael Baker International has spent months studying and analyzing the county’s courthouse needs, and Stewart said his efforts to secure a contract for a new courthouse will begin with the firm.
Before Monday’s vote, the council agreed to change the wording of the ordinance to substitute the word “courthouse” in place of the term “judicial center.”
The plan calls for the new facility to be built on property the county already owns between North Main Street, Hewitt Street and Fountain Street in downtown Darlington.
“I am so happy that we have gotten this to this point,” said Councilman Le Flowers of Darlington.
Councilman Robert L. “Bobby” Kilgo Jr. of Darlington thanked Stewart, Darlington County Clerk of Court Scott Suggs and Darlington County Sheriff Tony Chavis for their work on the courthouse project.
“They’ve played an important part in putting together this plan and bringing us to this point,” he said.
“Obviously, a lot of work went into planning this,” said Councilman Lewis Brown of Hartsville. “A year ago, this was getting kicked down the road until we ran out of road.”
“I’m happy to be a part of this new venture with the courthouse,” said Councilwoman Joyce Wingate Thomas of Darlington.
The council has been considering what to do about the aging courthouse in downtown Darlington for some time.
A top priority officials want to address in any new facility is improving courthouse security and safety.
Construction started on the existing five-story courthouse on Darlington’s Public Square in 1963, and the building opened its doors in 1965. The building is showing its age and is in a state of significant disrepair.
Officials say doing nothing about the courthouse could result in the county being forced to move its judicial functions to a neighboring county.