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Forsyth Courthouse staff settling in at new home

CUMMING — It’s been less than a month since the new Forsyth County Courthouse opened, but to those that work there it already feels like home.

In the weeks leading up to and following the March 12 dedication of the five-story facility in downtown Cumming, several departments and offices have moved in.

“The move went about as smoothly as it could go, from my perspective,” said Chief Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley. “We moved the weekend after the ribbon cutting and I spent most of the day over here on Saturday and part of the day on Sunday trying to get everything in and telling the movers where to put things.”

Bagley said that the courthouse’s audio-visual equipment, including new flat screen TVs to display evidence, is in use and improving court cases.

“We’ve had very few glitches with the equipment,” he said. “… It’s very state of the art, everything’s state of the art. We’ve been getting used to all the things that we’ve got available for us now to make our trials go better. ”

Construction of the courthouse began in July 2013. It, along with a new four-story jail across East Maple Street and two nearby multi-level parking decks with hundreds of spaces each, was funded through an extension of the 1-cent sales tax program that voters approved in a November 2011 referendum. The first $100 million from the sales tax is going toward the structures. The jail is scheduled to open later this month.

Penny Penn, district attorney for the Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit, said staff members in her office are still hanging pictures and decorating, but otherwise have settled in at the new courthouse.

“We made it, we’re here and we’re moved in,” Penn said.  “The actual move-in process was not without its hurdles, which can happen in any move. And then once we’re all over here and everything’s up and running, then all of those issues kind of fall by the wayside. That already seems like so long ago.”

County resident Phyllis Shadle, who was visiting the courthouse Friday, said she hadn’t seen much of the structure, but that it was an improvement over its predecessor.

“The only place that I’ve been in was the Clerk [of Court]’s office,” Shadle said. “From what I can see, it’s beautiful.”

Now that the new courthouse is open, members of the community may not be aware of where everything is located. Circuit Court Administrator Robin Rooks said that members of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office have been helping visitors find their way.

“It’s been very good because the sheriff’s deputies have been helpful when you go through the entrance and the magnetometer,” Rooks said. “We have bailiffs on hand to provide instructions on how to get to the fourth and fifth floors where hearings are held.

“The docket system is up, so people can come in and see immediately what courtroom they should report to.”

Rooks noted that some offices weren’t in the previous courthouse.

“On the first floor, we have the clerk’s office, and that’s the entire clerk’s office. Before it was kind of split up,” Rooks said. “It was in the basement of the courthouse annex and in part of the stone building, and then the jury assembly room.”

The second floor holds Penn’s office and that of Solicitor General Bill Finch, while the third floor is unoccupied to allow for future growth.

Parts of the fourth floor are also empty, though that should change soon.

“The fourth floor is state court, for the two state court judges,” she said. “Towards the end of the summer they’ll be completing the fourth floor build-out, and that will house the offices of pretrial services, the Indigent Defense Offices and accountability court.”

Rooks said the fifth floor is for Superior Court, judges and their staffs.

Across the street, the circa 1978 courthouse will remain in operation, only for different purposes. Plans call for it to house Probate Court and the sheriff’s office.