Solicitor: Law means ‘dramatic’ change for York Co. court building

Architectural drawing of the new York County Family Court building off West Main Street between Heckle Boulevard and Longview Road.
Architectural drawing of the new York County Family Court building off West Main Street between Heckle Boulevard and Longview Road.

An S.C. law that will raise the age at which juveniles can be tried as adults means York County needs more space from the start in its new Family Court building, said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett.

Brackett told the York County Council this week that the new law would raise the age at which juveniles can be tried as adults to 18, from the current 17.

He said the law, which was approved by the General Assembly earlier this year and would go into effect in 2019, could double the case load in Family Court.

“It has shortened the life span of the building, based on what we know,” Brackett said. “This is something nobody could have foreseen.”

The $21 million court building is planned on county property behind the Heckle Boulevard county office complex in Rock Hill, with a second entrance off West Main Street.

The 75,000-square-foot building will need more office and courtroom space when it opens to handle the additional court case load, Brackett said.

The new building – and the renovation of other buildings in the Heckle office complex – was part of an $89.8 million bond package approved by voters last year. The new building is tentatively set to open in the fall of 2018.

York County Family Court handles 770 to 800 juvenile offender cases each year, Brackett said. Last year, 769 17-year-old offenders were booked as adults at Moss Justice Center in York under the current law.

However, when the age at which offenders can be tried as an adult is increased to 18 in July 2019, Brackett said, all those 17-year-old offenders would go through the Family Court system instead of Circuit Court.

The impact is “dramatic,” Brackett said. “Adding 17-year-olds to the Family Court mix is huge.”

Jim Britton, vice president with Cumming, the county’s construction management firm, said the Family Court building is three stories with a partial basement.

It was initially planned to include a large “shell space” on the third floor that could be finished over the next 30 years as county growth warrants, Britton said.

The building was initially planned to house the Family Court arms of the county’s public defender, solicitor and clerk of court offices – as well as courtrooms and holding cell areas – all on the first two floors, he said.

Britton said a second plan for the building was drawn up after Brackett investigated the impact on the Family Court system of raising the age for adult offenders.

That plan includes space for up to seven courtrooms, including four on the second floor and two on the third. A multipurpose meeting room on the first floor could be converted into a courtroom if needed.

One of the three departments in the court building would move to the third floor, and about half the third-floor space would be finished, Britton said.

The second plan still would reserve one end of the third floor as “shell space to grow into,” he said. “We’ve also got growth space peppered into each one of those departments.”

The plan that involves more finished space would add about $1.5 million in cost to the estimated $21 million project.

“It was critical that we showed the County Council both options and gave them a price,” Britton said. “We wanted to be very transparent.”

County Manager Bill Shanahan said the county has about $4 million planned for regular capital needs. The county could absorb the extra $1.5 million cost of the Family Court building into that budget, he said.

County spokeswoman Trish Startup said the cost increase in the court building would not affect property taxes or other projects in the bond budget.

The County Council is expected to vote on the change when it meets Sept. 19.

The Moss Justice Center in York would get “some pressure taken off,” Brackett said, when 17-year-old offenders are moved into the Family Court system.

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077