Formal dedication held for new justice center

Staff Writer

NEWTON, NC – The opening of the Catawba County Justice Center expansion was celebrated during a formal dedication ceremony January 7, 2018. The ceremony, which was held in one of the facility’s new courtrooms, featured comments from Catawba County Board of Commissioners Chair Randy Isenhower, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Nathaniel J. Poovey, and North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts Director Marion R. Warren.
In lieu of a ribbon-cutting, several dignitaries knocked courtroom gavels to officially commemorate the opening. The ceremony was accompanied by tours of the facility.
“This much needed expansion was well planned, and is another example of the collaboration and cooperation that exists in Catawba County for the benefit of our citizens,” said Chairman Isenhower. “We are grateful for the dedicated efforts of those who brought this to completion, and for the men and women who work within this Justice Center on behalf of the people of Catawba County. Activities in this Justice Center literally affect the everyday lives of almost all our citizens.”

The new Justice Center facility, which is located on the Catawba County Government Center campus in Newton, expands the existing Justice Center by 139,181 square feet across two floors. Plans for the expansion began ten years ago when increases in both the number of trials and overall service demands were beginning to exceed the capacity of the original building.

The new space features five new courtrooms, jury deliberation rooms, attorney/client conference rooms, and attorney/judge conference rooms designed to better serve the public and justice officials. The building also houses court-related offices, including Superior and District Courts, the Clerk of Court, the District Attorney and Probation.

In addition, the expansion enabled the County to significantly upgrade the 911 Communications Center with state-of-the-art technology systems. The Communications Center has been moved into the new building alongside the County’s Emergency Services division, which includes Veterans’ Services, Emergency Medical Services, Fire-Rescue and Emergency Management offices.

The original Justice Center facility, which is adjacent to the new building and accessed through the main entrance, houses the Register of Deeds, the Sheriff’s Office and other support services.

The cost of the Justice Center expansion project totaled $44.6 million, which was funded in part by a quarter-cent local option sales tax referendum approved by voters in November 2007. This quarter cent is primarily dedicated to supporting Justice Center expansion but also goes toward public school operations, economic development, and water and sewer infrastructure. To help fully fund the expansion, the County also borrowed $22 million with a true interest cost of 3.31% and used available 911 funding from the state toward technology upgrades in the Communications Center.

“In essence, we used cash from sales tax and 911 revenues to pay for half of the project,” said Catawba County Chief Financial Officer Bob Miracle. “By doing this, the County saved the taxpayers an additional $8.5 million in interest costs by not financing the entire project.”

Following a phased move-in process that culminated in December 2017, all offices and courtrooms are now fully operational in the new facility. Beginning in April 2018, the Catawba County Board of Commissioners will transition its public meetings from the 1924 Courthouse in Newton to the Board’s new meeting room in the building.

A Brief History of the Catawba County Justice Center
On March 13, 1843, the first session of Catawba County court was held in the home of Matthias Barringer, Jr.

The first official courthouse came about in 1846, when the Town of Newton was laid out and the County Courthouse was positioned at its center. Although it was enlarged in 1888, the Courthouse was demolished in 1923 to create a new building better fitting the County’s needs. On Christmas Eve of 1924, construction was finished on the new County Courthouse.

In the early 1970s, the state informed Catawba County that its jail building needed upgrades. Plans were made for not only a new jail, but a new Courthouse as well. The Catawba County Justice Center opened in 1980, combining the jail, Sheriff’s Office, courts, and court-related functions into one building.

In January 2015, in response to increased service demands, Catawba County began constructing a Justice Center expansion. The opening of the new facility was officially commemorated on January 7, 2018.