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Town green plan leads concepts
Panel likes space by facilities
Artist rendering of what downtown Cumming could look like under one proposal for the construction of a new courthouse and expanded jail that includes a town green. - photo by For the FCN

The leading concept design for the jail expansion and new Forsyth County courthouse features an open green space in the downtown Cumming square.

The architects for the project presented three concepts for the facilities during a Thursday morning meeting of the SPLOST VII Jail/Courthouse Project Team.

The nine-member panel was tasked with oversight of the projects approved as part of the voter-approved extension of the special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST VII, which includes about $100 million for the facilities.

The committee voted 8-0, with Sheriff Ted Paxton absent, to recommend the “town green” concept to the county commissioners for final approval.

The design would place the new courthouse across from the current courthouse, but set back off Veterans Memorial Boulevard to open up an area in front of the building, said Gary Retel, of architectural firm HOK.

“It creates a great town center green,” Retel said. “It’s a bit of a game changer for downtown Cumming in the sense that you’re creating a large opening outdoor space from which all these buildings will look out upon.”

Compared to the other two conceptual designs, he said the layout also allows more room to separate the tall government buildings on the square, making city hall and the county administration building appear “more prominent” in relation to the courthouse.

The new courthouse would be the tallest building in downtown, proposed at five stories, said Doug Shaw, contracted architect with Wakefield Beasley & Associates.

“This is almost literally four times the height of the existing courthouse,” he said. “We’ve got a big building, but when you start pulling it away from these other buildings, it gives those other buildings more space, more room.”

The new courthouse, proposed at five stories, would stand about 80 to 90 feet tall, he said, compared to the current courthouse, which is about 24 feet excluding the roof.

The “drawback” to the town green plan, Shaw said, is that putting more space between the buildings pushes the parking deck out of the slated location behind the new courthouse.

The project team considered building up the current county administration parking lot, but it would probably require the closure of School Street.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said he would discuss the space and possible road closure with city council.

Gravitt and the project team favored the town green design in comparison to the “courtyard” concept, which placed the jail expansion and courthouse on the same property across from the existing one.

The design has potential to save about $2 million in construction and cost less in terms of operational expenses, Shaw said.

The buildings in the concept design ran right along the roads in the square, which Gravitt said would create an undesirable “tunnel effect.”

The third concept, titled “SPLOST,” is the town green scenario without the open space and a parking deck behind the new courthouse.

Program manager Joe Lee discussed the “total cost of ownership” to consider how what is built could impact future expenses.

“If the scheme or concept draws people downtown more, there is more future development downtown, which has a good impact on the tax base,” Lee said.

Commissioner Pete Amos said the town green concept may “offset” the construction savings realized by the tighter courtyard concept by attracting business, versus the possibility of deterring it.

In the design plan, both courthouses would still be in use, with the new building for state and superior court functions and the existing one for magistrate and probate courts, Shaw said.

For that reason, connectivity and safety need to be considered in the plans, he said.

The jail will be connected to the courthouse by either a tunnel or a bridge in the town green design, as well as the SPLOST design.

In all three concepts, the courthouse and jail buildings showed brick and stone for the exterior.

County commissioners are expected to review the plans and the project team recommendation at an Oct. 18 meeting.