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County Council: Pack the gavel! Meetings move to courtroom

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

When Georgetown County Council meets this month, it won’t be in the usual venue.

Renovations to a new council chambers in the historic wing of the courthouse are complete and council business, along with that of the county planning commission, are moving to a larger, lusher space with more bells and whistles.

“I think the biggest thing is it has more seating,” County Administrator Sel Hemingway said of the new space on the second floor of the 19th century courthouse at the corner of Prince and Screven Streets. It was once the county’s main courtroom.

The room can comfortably accommodate about 125 people, he estimates. That should put an end to overcrowding that occurs when there’s a hot item on the council agenda.

While the current chambers usually have more than enough seating for the spectators at most council meetings, when there’s a controversial issue to be discussed, people line the walls, fill the doorway and spill out into the hall as they wait to have their say or strain to hear the council deliberate.

The new chambers will have better acoustics, a sound system that will enable audience members to better hear what speakers have to say and video screens that will allow materials being presented to council members to be easily seen from any seat in the room.

In the old chambers, a screen on the side wall is difficult for audience members, and even council members, to see if they are sitting on that side of the room.

A monitor on the opposite side of the room has to be turned where council and the audience can see it when materials are shown there.

“It has been awkward, so this will be much better,” Hemingway said.

The new chambers are part of an ongoing renovations project at the courthouse that recently moved a number of county offices into the refubished wing that once contained court offices. Renovations started last year, after courts and all related functions moved to a new judicial complex on the other side of Georgetown’s historic district.

County staff in the new wing moved from the hallway leading to council’s old chambers. The recently vacated space there is next in line for renovation.

Once work is completed, the building, stormwater and GIS departments will move into the space, freeing up the building behind the courthouse for occupation by the Georgetown County Museum, which has outgrown its current facility on Prince Street.

Plans call for those offices to move into the courthouse in February, Hemingway said.

“We don’t have as much work to do in that hallway as in other areas, because the usage isn’t that much different,” Hemingway said. “It can be adapted pretty easily.”

Workers are catching up now on regular maintenance projects that got pushed to the back burner during renovations, but will soon be “working full force” on renovations again, Hemingway said.

After the second floor is complete, work will shift to the first floor.

“Nobody is really being moved there, but there will be changes to give more space to some offices,” Hemingway said.

Courthouse renovations are budgeted at $1.8 million in the county’s capital improvement plan. Work so far has come in under budget and has been mostly on schedule, Hemingway said.

The initial shifting of offices was completed on time. Renovations to the new council chambers was finished later than expected, “but it didn’t disrupt anything,” Hemingway said.

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