The 8th Judicial Circuit plans to renovate parts of the Levy County Courthouse for around $1.5 million after the county commission approved preliminary plans at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
The Levy County Board of County Commissioners did suggest changes at the front entrances, and Paul Silverman, trial court administrator, said the recommendations were well received. The architect with the judicial circuit will present the changes on July 5 for final approval.
In a phone interview, Silverman said Levy County has the second-largest case load in the district, behind Alachua County, and the courthouse has needed extra space and renovations. The last renovations took place more than two decades ago.
Several years ago, Levy County purchased an adjacent school building, allowing the court to move offices out of the actual courthouse. Silverman said that freed up enough space to make renovations.
The judicial circuit had approached the county earlier about building a new courthouse, but the county refused because of cost. The circuit received approval to move forward for more modest renovations in April 2021.
The renovations will focus on three areas, and Silverman said a committee—with representatives from the sheriff’s office, judicial circuit, Levy County and clerk’s office—met with the architect over the past year on design.
First, the entryway is tight and has some security concerns, Silverman said. So the ingress and egress area will be expanded.
Second, the courthouse currently has two courtrooms with a small hearing room. So the renovations will change the hearing room into another courtroom.
“The hearing room is pretty limited,” Silverman said. “It’s small and narrow. You can do some court events, but really not many.”
Lastly, the project will add mediation rooms, a self-help center for those handling their own cases and conference rooms.
Levy County already has $1.3 million set aside for a courthouse project given by the state from 2004-2008 in the court improvement grant fund. To top off funding, the project will use a fund fueled by fines and fees from traffic cases.
“Fortunately, there was some money in the coffers already existing,” Silverman said. “About 15 years ago, the state provided money to small counties throughout the state to help them improve their courthouses.”
Silverman said this project allowed the judicial circuit to make needed improvements without burdening Levy County with funding requests. However, Silverman said the project will move forward taking rising costs, supply problems and construction delays into account.
“It’s a concern for us because we do have this fixed budget,” Silverman said. “We went in initially telling the county commission that we were not asking for additional general revenue to do this.”
If needed, he said the court can break the project into parts, funding one at a time to keep on track financially. But Silverman said with funding in place, the circuit will try to move quickly to make the needed changes.
The 8th Judicial Circuit splits funding on the courthouse and services with Levy County and the five other counties in its area—Alachua, Bradford, Baker, Gilchrist and Union.
The county owns the building and funds security, technology and some special programs like support for individuals who represent themselves in court. Meanwhile, the circuit pays for judges, court reporting and interpreting, expert witnesses and all non-technology court staff.
“If you ask why, I cannot tell you why,” Silverman said. “That’s what the statute calls for.”