County Officials Finally Break Ground on New Courthouse Annex Project

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PANAMA CITY - To say the project is long overdue would be an understatement. Bay County officials finally broke ground today on the Courthouse Annex project.

The new facility will provide additional courtrooms and offices to alleviate chronic overcrowding at the main courthouse facility. By the way Commissioner Guy Tunnell counted down today's ground breaking, you'd get the impression he was in a hurry.

"1, 2, 3. Whoo, there ya go."

And with that, Bay County officials kicked off only the second major expansion in the history of the Bay County courthouse.

It was built in 1915, making it one of the oldest courthouses in the state. The county's first major renovation expanded the south side of the original structure but this new project will be a separate facility on the site of the old county jail.

The annex will be 53,000 square feet and include six courtrooms, four multi-use rooms, one for civil cases, and one for family cases. It will also include new offices and chambers for the six circuit judges and will be wired for the latest technology.

"The new courtrooms will have flat-screen technology," Hentz McClellan, the 14th Circuit's Chief Judge, said. "You know a lot of these attorneys, most of them use i-pads, or tablets for audio-visual presentations. It will accommodate all of those types of technology. Also, laptops, wireless."

Both circuit and county judges say they're excited about what the expansion means.

"To go from having three courtrooms for 10 judges, to having an additional 6 courtrooms for 10 judges will make a tremendous difference in the administration of justice on civil cases, in criminal cases," Circuit Judge Jim Fensom said.

County Commissioner George Gainer was one of the driving forces behind the annex project. He said the people who use the new facility will be the ones paying the $12.5 million price tag.

"The building will be paid for by those who use it, so if you see a speeding car go down the road, wave at them and thank them for helping build the new courthouse."

Actual construction on the new annex is expected to begin in about a month and should take about eighteen months to complete.