Burlington County officials back $4.8 million courthouse renovation

The project calls for a 30-foot escalator, added to the plan in late December.
The project calls for a 30-foot escalator, added to the plan in late December. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 24, 2013

Burlington County officials who frequently say they don't want to spend taxpayers' money are now justifying a proposed $4.8 million renovation by saying it is needed for courthouse security.

The project calls for eliminating multiple entrances at the seven-story courthouse and adjacent county administration building in Mount Holly. A single entrance for both buildings would make them safer, officials say.

But the architectural plans and exhibits The Inquirer obtained through an open public records request show an array of unrelated extras that rarely have been mentioned publicly.

Among them is a 30-foot-long escalator that would replace or supplement four steps that lead from the county building to the multilevel, open-air courtyard between the buildings. It was added to the project in late December, according to Ralph Shrom, county spokesman at the time.

The escalator would "facilitate circulation" from the county building to the courtyard, the plans say. "Our proposal assumes that it would be housed within an addition that projects into the courtyard." No other details were available.

Sheriff Jean E. Stanfield, who is in charge of security for the courthouse, said she did not know how the escalator would fit in with the redesign of the courtyard and referred questions to the county engineer. "There's always a balance between security and convenience," she said, adding that it could improve traffic flow.

The engineer's office referred calls to the Board of Freeholders. Freeholder Director Joseph Donnelly did not return calls seeking comment.

County spokeswoman Charlene Webster said the plans were "the concept provided by the architect." She said they were approved by freeholders and would be "developed into a final design."

She said the project was expected to go out to bid as early as summer.

Listed on the contract as "Security Enhancements at the Mount Holly Complex," are new bathrooms; electrical, heating, and air-conditioning upgrades; and the gutting and renovation of the courtyard. The lower part of the marble walls of the county building also would be spruced up, and the freeholders' meeting room would get a raised platform and new lighting.

The typically frugal board approved the multimillion-dollar renovation despite recent belt tightening.

Last year, the all-Republican board closed a 100-year-old county nursing home for the indigent, saying it was costing taxpayers too much money. The freeholders also have deflected calls to increase assistant prosecutors' salaries, although - starting at $48,400 - they are among the lowest in the state.

Shrom, who retired this year, said in an earlier interview the renovations were long overdue. The county building dates to the 1950s and the courthouse was built in the 1980s, he said, "when building design didn't account for the level of high security needed today."


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