September 5, 2013

Murray magistrate court plans move to old jail wing

Rachel Brown

— The cramped offices of Murray County’s Magistrate Court will soon have a more spacious feel when the court relocates to the old jail, officials said.

Chief Magistrate L. Gale Buckner said inmates, community service workers and even some of the court’s own employees have been working to tear down walls to begin renovating the administrative area of the old jail since a new jail facility recently opened.

Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman said she’s in the process of putting out and reviewing bids for the project and hopes to have the magistrate offices in the jail building by sometime in January. She didn’t immediately have a cost estimate but said it would likely be less than $50,000.

Chris Fowler, an elected part-time magistrate, said he’s been working with inmates and community service workers through North Georgia Judicial Services to take down walls and tear out other infrastructure in the administrative areas of the old portion of the jail to turn the space into a conference room, courtroom, offices and storage space.

The magistrate offices are currently in the county annex across from the courthouse, but the offices are separated from the courtroom. Because of the annex building’s less-than-user-friendly design, getting from one place to another can be difficult for people unfamiliar with the space, officials said. Fowler said the new space will resolve those problems.

Workers will convert the old jail’s old kitchen area, laundry room and other administrative space into office space and courtroom space. Fowler said there will be a larger waiting area for members of the public, and employees’ offices will no longer be so cramped.

“I would say we’re probably at least half or three-fourths bigger with what we’re moving into,” he said. “It’s going to be a considerable improvement.”

Buckner said there are no plans to use former inmate cell areas for the new offices. Officials said the project is a collaborative effort between the Magistrate Court, commissioner’s office and sheriff’s office.

Pittman said she hopes even more of the project can be completed with inmate labor to cut down on costs.

As for what will be done with the Magistrate Court’s old offices, Pittman said officials are still considering their next move. It’s possible some county offices housed in non-county-owned facilities could be moved there to cut costs, she said.

“We’ve not discussed that in great detail yet,” Pittman said.