RINGGOLD, Ga. — Instead of going whole hog, Catoosa County Commissioners on Tuesday night decided to renovate the aging county courthouse complex in downtown Ringgold in two phases.
They approved the $800,000 first phase and deferred the $1.3 million second phase.
"I think we need to be extremely prudent and fiscally responsible," Commissioner Jim Cutler said. "We can see how the economy progresses; we can always add phase two."
Voters approved $1 million for courthouse repairs in 2009 as part of a special purpose local option sales tax. But because of lower-than-expected retail sales, the tax is expected to generate only $800,000.
To do the whole courthouse renovation at once, commissioners would have to dip into reserves or borrow money -- and then hope voters would cover the additional cost through a planned 2015 SPLOST ballot measure.
"If the 2015 SPLOST doesn't get passed, then we're obligating ourselves for a lot of money," Cutler said.
The courthouse complex consists of a 1939, two-story brick colonial revival building fronting Nashville Street connected by an elevated walkway to the second floor of a 1980s-era brick addition on LaFayette Street.
For wheelchair users, navigating is difficult. A wheelchair ramp is the only access to the first floor of the old courthouse. There's no elevator in the old building.
Remedying that by installing a wheelchair lift in a new enclosure between the two buildings is the project's top priority, County Manager Mike Helton said.
"We want to have our facilities handicapped accessible," Helton said.
Another major improvement will be building second-floor storage space on the roof of the 911 call center, which is in the addition.
The storage space will be used by the Superior Court clerk's office, which has filing cabinets stacked to the ceiling.
"They've got file cabinets on top of file cabinets," Helton told the commissioners.
Other phase one work will include enlarging the south entry lobby, so people won't have to line up outside while waiting to go through metal detectors, as well as installing new drains and waterproofing in the old court's flood-prone basement.
Deferred phase-two work includes building second-story courtroom space on top of what was the former jail.
The court sometimes has more judges than there are courtrooms.
"You get four judges and two courtrooms. You'll have a judge holding court in some little office," County Attorney C. Chad Young said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to pay $99,000 to Ringgold architect Ross Andrews to draw detailed plans for both phases, instead of splitting the architecture and engineering documents into two phases.
"It does make sense to do all the drawing [at once]," Andrews told commissioners. "At least you'll have a good, hard figure for [costs]."
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.