Colleton Co., S.C., Plans $3 Million Security Improvements for Courthouse

WALTERBORO, S.C. (AP) - Security wasn't the main concern when the Colleton County Courthouse was built in the 1820s.

But 182 years later, the county plans to spend more than $3 million to eliminate problems like defendants from jail being walked through public hallways.

"You've got people waiting to fight for custody of their children, and they're sitting in the hallway looking at each other,'' Circuit Judge Perry Buckner said. ``I can't think of a situation more serious than that.''

The Colleton County Council voted last week to seek bids for a project to improve security and preserve the old courthouse.

The project is expected to cost $3.2 million to be paid through a general obligation bond, county Administrator Richard Starks said. It would cost at least an additional $400,000 to move all the departments to another location for 12 to 18 months, he said.

The age of the courthouse had to be considered in the renovations. Buckner, the state Department of Archives and History and others worked with architects from Stevens & Wilkinson for 18 months to draw the plans.

Much of the work will go on inside the building. The outside of the courthouse, designed by Robert Mills, the noted South Carolina architect who designed the Washington Monument, is mostly in good shape, architect Lyons Barker said.

The renovation will include adding an elevator closed to the public to bring defendants up from cells in the basement. ``They won't cross the judges in the hall, which is a very dangerous situation,'' Barker said.

The project also will add sprinklers, alarm systems and emergency lights to the building and make it accessible to people with disabilities as well as replace the roof and windows, Barker said.

The work also will make the courtrooms more secure. Buckner remembers watching a defendant fling a deputy from his arm, run into a judge's unsecured chambers and take a flying leap through a pane of glass.

"He jumped into a closed window like he was Superman,'' Buckner said.

Information from: The Post and Courier,