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Hernando County administrator's plan would take old courthouse from historic to functional

BROOKSVILLE — The rope that bars public access to the front of Hernando County's historic courthouse speaks volumes to County Administrator David Hamilton.

"It's an entrance way to no entrance,'' Hamilton said.

To him, it demonstrates that what has evolved inside county government headquarters in downtown Brooksville is "functioning but not functional.''

On Tuesday, Hamilton will present a plan to the County Commission that could change all of that. The plan involves a complicated series of office space shuffles that would turn the newest portions of the government center over to the judiciary while moving core county services into the old courthouse, built in 1913.

The proposal calls for the construction of four new courtrooms, including one where the County Commission now meets, a new sally port for moving inmates in and out of the building for court appearances and an addition that would provide a secure area for holding cells and other related space.

The County Commission would then meet in the old historic courtroom inside the courthouse, and county administration offices, human resources, the county attorney and purchasing would be in office space in the old building.

The plan does not yet speak to where the property appraiser, the tax collector and the supervisor of elections would be housed.

An additional expansion area — for future use by the court system — is identified in the plan in the courtyard next to the stairs that lead to the atrium that is now the main entrance to the government center.

The plan would eliminate the prominent stairway entrance to the center and create a main entrance one floor below.

The atrium would be remodeled, the large planter in the middle removed and the space used for customer service functions for the clerk of the Circuit Court.

Hamilton and county staffers have been crafting the plan for several months to address two major issues. One is the ongoing push for new judicial space by Chief Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. The other is to create a logical plan to separate court functions, which require a high degree of security, from other county customer service functions, Hamilton said.

"We want to deal with the disaggregation of functions before the building becomes dysfunctional,'' he said, noting that people shouldn't have to remove their belts at security just to vote at the Supervisor of Elections Office or attend a County Commission meeting.

The proposal will be considered by commissioners Tuesday as they discuss several other options that have been presented, including offers from representatives of two major property owners in Brooksville to purchase their buildings — the downtown SunTrust Bank and a portion of the old Brooksville Regional Hospital building on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

Hamilton said there are no cost estimates yet on the proposal. He noted that another benefit of the plan would be that the county would be creating jobs for unemployed construction workers.

Hamilton gave county commissioners tours of the buildings this week in preparation for his presentation Tuesday. He said he is most excited about the possibility of opening up the historic courthouse facilities, which he termed "likely the most beautiful building in Hernando County," for greater public use.

Commissioner Dave Russell agreed.

"Why make it a museum when we can make it a fully functioning facility,'' Russell said. "I think our forefathers would be ecstatic'' that the building was back in use for its original function.

"I liked what I saw,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes.

Not only was he supportive of using the old portion of the building more fully, but also he said the plan could likely be implemented for far less than the $18 million that has been set aside for meeting judicial space needs.

"I will say that there is some relevance to this plan,'' said Commissioner John Druzbick. "The plan is showing utilization of the building that is a lot better than it is right now. But it doesn't address all of the concerns.''

Druzbick said the county would still need to find a new home for the constitutional officers displaced by the plan. He also said he worried about the cost.

"There is obviously a cost to this," he said, "and honestly it looks to me like it's going to be substantial.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County administrator's plan would take old courthouse from historic to functional 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 7:27pm]
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