County ready to show off Niles south building expansion
By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The South County Building in Niles will be holding an open house to showcase the expansion that has doubled the size of the old structure.
On Wednesday at 2 p.m., the Berrien County Building Authority and Board of Commissioners invites the public to view the impressive new addition.
Pat Sweeney, superintendent of buildings and grounds for Berrien County, was responsible for overseeing the large project.
He said the building will officially be open for business on Monday, Jan. 20.
Sweeney said he has been getting nothing but positive feedback from the employees who will be moving into the new facilities in the coming weeks.
With an additional 32,000 square feet, the expansion will more than double the size of the old building, which was 25,000 square feet.
Sweeney said the expansion has long been a part of the county's plans.
The county began planning for the expansion in 2001 and construction began a year ago at the beginning of 2002.
Sweeney said they are currently a little under the projected cost of $5.6 million.
The expansion includes a large, open lobby that leads to two new courtrooms.
The courtrooms will be technologically linked to the courts in St. Joseph.
One example of these technological advances is a video system that will make it possible to have inmates attend their hearings without being transported across the county.
The two main courtrooms are surrounded by a corridor filled with a variety of offices.
There will be new offices for the judges, bailiffs, secretaries, the family division, and felony and misdemeanor probation.
The improvements go on and on.
There is also an employee lounge, small kitchenettes for each office area, a law library, two small jury rooms, large jury assembly room and a lock-up area.
The old facility had two rooms for lock-up, the new building has six rooms and an area for the inmates to meet with their attorneys.
Sweeney said the jury assembly room will allow them to have a more effective jury selection process.
Another big improvement is in the sally port, the area where police and sheriff vehicles unload inmates.
The sally port at the old building was just a fenced in area that was outdoors. The new one is a garage-like area that is inside the building.
Sweeney said the construction was done by three prime contractors and about 30 sub-contractors. Shelton Construction of Benton Harbor was responsible for general construction. Beaudoin Electrical Construction of Sodus was contracted to do the electrical work. Bosch Mechanical Contractors of Grand Rapids were responsible for the mechanical and plumbing work.
On Friday morning, construction crews were putting the finishing touches on the large expansion.