PANAMA CITY — Courthouse and county representatives picked a “preferred site” for the new juvenile justice courthouse Wednesday during a Bay County Courts and Clerk Facilities Committee meeting.
The juvenile courthouse currently is at 533 E. 11th St. and eventually is expected to move to its new location at 314 Harmon Ave., north of the county courthouse. The preferred location “is an addition to the existing courthouse,” said Victoria Williams, president of VBA Design, the architects for the site study.
The location north of the county courthouse was one of three options considered, the other two being the courthouse annex location also at 314 Harmon Ave. and a separate location at 225 McKenzie Ave. and Third Court East.
Circuit judges and officials discussed the parking options, facility space and other aspects of all three options. Details for the new courthouse are not set in stone and can be amended as needed.
“The goal is we’re trying to make this space better for the public,” said Elijah Smiley, chief judge for the 14th Judicial Circuit. “This is going to be a headache but at the end of it we’re going to have a product that’s best for the citizens we serve.”
The location north of the county courthouse “stands out the most to me,” said County Commissioner Robert Carroll, who made the motion to select the option. “It gives somewhat of a compromise for everybody.”
Carroll also said other options were more expensive. County public works director Keith Bryant said the location north of the county courthouse maximizes parking. Circuit judges said they preferred the 225 McKenzie location because it causes court workers the least amount of inconvenience.
Pros for the location north of the county courthouse include minimal disruption of courthouse operations during construction, no loss of parking, retaining the courthouse annex and no storm surge impact, according the site study. Cons would include a loss of green space.
All three options had “tree issues” since there is no way to save all the “beautiful trees,” said Williams.
The current juvenile justice site on 11th Street eventually will house the new federal courthouse and has to be vacated by January, and juvenile justice operations will temporarily move to the old Panama City City Hall at 9 Harrison Ave. The new federal courthouse is expected to open in October 2019 and the latest the new juvenile justice courthouse could open is September 2020.