CHIPLEY - After nearly two years of anticipation, the new Washington County Courthouse will open to the public on Friday.
County Administrator Hank Hamilton calls it an "exciting time for the citizens of Washington County."
"We finally get to move into our beautiful new courthouse," said Hamilton. "We all should be proud of this building and the hard work that went into turning it into reality."
The state allocated $9.2 million of its $77 billion 2015 budget to help fund construction of the new Washington County Courthouse in the wake of former building's condemnation for health and structural concerns in early 2014. The line item is believed to be the largest ever allocated by the state for county courthouse special funding.
"The County Commissioners and the Clerk of Court office have put so much time and effort into getting this accomplished," said Hamilton "It's finally nice to get moved in and relax for a little bit. Of course, we need to thank Governor Scott for the funding, GAC contractors for building such a beautiful building, and JRA architects for designing a building that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also incorporates the rich history from the previous courthouse."
The courthouse is the third in the county's history.
Built in 1896, the first courthouse was located in the center of Vernon, which preceded Chipley as the county seat. The building was three stories high and featured a tower and numerous fireplaces. By the 1920s, Vernon's timber industry and steamboat commerce was in a steep decline, while Chipley's railroad industry was booming, prompting citizens to vote to move the county seat to Chipley in 1927, where construction began on the second courthouse in 1929 and completed in 1932.
Construction began on the new courthouse in late 2014. Located on Jackson Avenue at the site of the old courthouse, the new facility is around 30,000 square feet and features 14 ft. ceilings and a secured underground parking garage to accommodate judges and other court officials, as well as provide secure transport of prisoners to and from court proceedings.
Two new courtrooms - one civil and circuit - grace the third floor, and a mezzanine overlooks the first floor lobby, which has an open design and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Clerk of Court and Comptroller Lora Bell said she and her staff couldn't be more excited.
"What a special day in the lives of each of us to be a part of this historical moment," said Bell. "We are looking forward to serving our citizens in this 'state of the art' facility and are eager to welcome our visitors. My staff and I are so thankful for the opportunity to share your new courthouse with you while providing you the most efficient customer service possible. Washington County has certainly been blessed, and my prayer is that we can all be good stewards of what has been given to us."
Official grand opening ceremonies for the courthouse will be held from 9-11 a.m. on Dec. 1. Among those invited to the event are a host of top state officials, including Governor Rick Scott.