About the Beaufort County Courthouse

Published 7:09 pm Saturday, October 31, 2015

Recently, courthouse security has become a dominant issue at the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meetings. This is a key issue to the judges, district attorney, Clerk of Court, many citizens and possibly several courthouse employees.

The courthouse was designed by a local architect and constructed between 1968 and 1971. The cost of the building was approximately $1 million. Funds for the courthouse were approved by a voter referendum. The old courthouse had many problems including the lack of a women’s bathroom. Due to this, the jury was always men. The construction of the courthouse ran over budget and certain cuts were made. The original design of the roof was slate.

In the beginning, the courthouse had steps from the first floor to the basement. The basement housed the Beaufort County Jail and the Sheriff’s Office. It even had a kitchen. Around 1980, the jail was expanded and the Sheriff’s Office moved to its present location in the Oakland building. The jail presently occupies most of the basement. Storage for the Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds is also located in the basement.

The first floor housed the Clerk of Court and Register of Deeds. It also housed County Administration, Tax Administration and Board of Elections which all moved to other locations later on. The civil courtroom was added later. The second floor houses the judges’ offices, superior and district court.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s, when I was growing up, we left the doors to our house unlocked all the time. We also had an outhouse off the porch, which various people from the park came and used that we didn’t always know but we trusted them. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel came along and wiped out the outhouse so that was no longer a guest location. (We had an inside toilet.) What I am saying is that we were not concerned with security or for that matter, our safety. We felt secure and safe.

The situation has changed dramatically since the construction of the courthouse. Security and safety are now a concern to most people. Most people would not leave their doors unlocked and many have security systems. Cameras are being used more and more to monitor the activities of people.

Unfortunately, crime has escalated and there is much more violent crime. A large portion of the crime increase is due to drugs. Guns that are not legally registered are a concern. Many people have them who shouldn’t. Increasing security in the courthouse is very relevant in today’s environment and I applaud the Board of Commissioners for addressing the issue.

The Beaufort County Courthouse is a grand old building. It is suffering from its age and lack of maintenance. Painting is badly needed in many areas. Carpet on the floor in certain areas is worn and in some cases could be a tripping hazard. The district courtroom is in poor condition and needs an upgrade. Worse of all, the roof is worn out and leaks. A good audit would reveal a good work list.

The county has spent a great deal of money on the schools and community college but has not spent much on county building infrastructure improvements. The courthouse is one of the most important buildings in the county and needs to be maintained to high standards. Many people from inside and outside the county visit the courthouse. How that building is perceived by others is important.

Safety of the courthouse is also important — in fact, it should be of No. 1 importance. The fire alarm system in the building is a pull alarm. The building is empty from the time the janitors go home until morning. If a fire was to break out at night on the upper levels, the people in the jail wouldn’t know it until they smelled the smoke or the building above caved in on them. Safety and compliance issues also plague the jail and are many. Audits of the jail cite jail deficiencies but do not address OSHA compliance issues that are many.

In summing up, I believe the courthouse will be an asset to Beaufort County for many years to come. Let’s keep it safe, secure and in a condition we can all be proud of.

Al Klemm is a retired Beaufort County commissioner.