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New Santa Rosa Courthouse On Time And On Budget

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

Construction of the new $42 million Santa Rosa County Courthouse is on track for completion by the end of this year.

Members of the media are among those who’ve been invited to the site on Avalon Boulevard for an update on how the structure is coming together.

“This is the front entry to the building right here. This is the main lobby where the public will come into,” said Chuck Lester, senior project manager for Ajax Building Corporation, beginning the overview for this latest tour group.

“There’ll be a place where you’ll go through screening to make your way to the elevators to make your way upstairs for the courtrooms.”

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Chuck Lester, senior project manager for Ajax Building Corporation, explains the current phase of construction of Santa Rosa's new courthouse.

Projecting over the noise, Lester points out that this phase of construction involves installation of the building’s roof system.

“They’re pumping concrete up onto the roof,” he said, adding that the concrete mixture is lightweight. “The membrane will go on top of that. So, we’re almost completely dried in right now with the building. But, that’s what all that noise is.”

The public side of the building, which will include plenty of parking, faces Avalon Boulevard. That prompts a question from Robin Vickers, who chairs the Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce.

“So, will there be access from Avalon,” Vickers asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, we’re about to start that work now. There’ll be a turn lane,” responded Lester.

David Alsop, president of building designer, Sam Marshall Architects, jumps in to add that the plans right now call for a “boulevard entrance.”

“But, it’s right out, right in, only, so, it doesn’t cross,” Alsop explained. “But, one day we anticipate there will be a signalized intersection there, when the traffic warrants that. It’s a decision by FDOT.”

Back to the construction of the building, Alsop points out that the crane on site has been used for installation of pre-cast wall panels. There’s one area that’s been left open for access and through it, he says one can get a sense of all that’s taking place inside with the 100 or so craftsmen who report to the job on any given day.

“There’re the metal studs. There’s the framer. There’s the drywall. There’s HVAC piping. There’s electrical,” he began. “You can see the structure. 

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
This last open area of the courthouse reveals a peak at the steel studs, wiring, piping and other aspects of the interior construction.

There’s a floor that’s not finished yet. But, then all the finishings will go in. It’s almost like conducting symphony. These guys are good.”

Alsop and his architectural firm have been involved in the development of numerous large projects in the region, including those of a similar nature such as the Juvenile Justice Center in Escambia County. Also, they recently collaborated with Ajax on the new Okaloosa County Courthouse in Crestview.

This new judicial center in Santa Rosa County will replace the existing courthouse. According to Alsop, when it was built back in 1927, it had to serve multiple governmental functions.

The new facility, which is three stories high and 115,000-square feet, has just one purpose.

“It has seven courtrooms in it, eight judges’ suites, two hearing rooms, and two magistrate rooms,” said Alsop of the interior. “There’s a jury assembly area. There’s an office for clerk administration and Clerk of Court.”

One of the most important factors in constructing a new courthouse is the improvement in security.

“This building will be one of the securest buildings, the securest building in the county, I believe,” proclaimed Sgt. Ricky Cotton, with the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office.

Cotton won’t get to work in the new building, because he’s set for retirement after 32 years with the department. But, he and others with experience working court security helped design security features for the new building.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
This is the rear of the new courthouse, where the sally port is located. It's one of the enhanced security features of the facility.

“I’ll start at the back. It has a sally port big enough for a bus, so when we transport inmates from the east side of the county over here, we can get a whole bus in there, and get them all in, in a safe area,” Cotton said. “Then, once we get them through the sally port, it’s got holding facilities, so we can actually lock inmates down, up to about 60.”

The building has inmate-holding areas on each floor and secure elevators for the inmates. Additionally, there are much-needed accommodations for the judges.

“We’ve got a secured elevator for the judges and secured hallways for the judges,” said the sergeant, noting that the security enhancements will make their job easier. “We won’t have to walk the judges thru a public, crowded hallway. The judges won’t have to use a public restroom, amongst the public. They’ve have their own area.”

“This is the exciting part, all the previous leg work. I thank the commission for dealing with that. And, this is really my wheelhouse in seeing the building come up out of the ground,” added District 4 Commissioner Dave Piech, who was an engineer in the Air Force.

Elected to the Santa Rosa County Commission just two years ago, he acknowledged the two decades of arduous work by previous boards in picking a location for a new courthouse and figuring out how to pay for it.

Now, a little more than a year since groundbreaking, Piech says he’s pleased with the progress of construction.

“They’re running on time, on budget. They’re keeping us abreast,” he said of the project managers. “Hopefully, by the end of the year, we’ll have it all done. We’ll have about three to four months to outfit it and get it all set up and open the doors in 2022.”  

After that, the county will be looking ahead to the next phase of the courthouse project. It calls for construction of an adjacent building on the 19-acre site that will accommodate the State Attorney, Public Defender, Probation, and the Guardian ad Litem program.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.