Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center

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Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center in February 2010

The Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center is a new 153,000 square foot building for the Jefferson County Courthouse facilities in Bessemer. It replaced the former Jefferson County Courthouse Bessemer Division. The facility was constructed by the Jefferson County Public Building Authority, which issued lease warrants for development capital. The building is leased to the county.

Construction of the $38 million building began on the downtown block between 18th and 19th Streets North at 2nd Avenue on April 10, 2007 and was completed in the Spring of 2009. It was designed by Giattina Aycock Architecture Studio and features a long wall of insulated security glass to visually reinforce the notion of "transparent justice". The lower facade is clad in Alabama limestone and the plaza and lobby are paved with Sardinian granite. The one-story entrance plaza features a green roof, visible from the adjacent stairways. Rainwater from the main roof is collected in a 20,000 gallon underground cistern for irrigation. Courtrooms are paneled in native White oak. It is linked to the adjacent Jefferson County Jail Bessemer Division.

The ground floor of the courthouse houses a jury assembly room, offices of the Bessemer cutoff district attorney Bill Veitch and district and circuit clerks, and UAB's Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities program. District court is held on the second floor, and circuit court on the third. A 110,000 square-foot three-story parking deck is located behind the courthouse with space for 350 cars. The existing Bessemer Courthouse was renovated for use by Jefferson County Family Court and for offices.

In 2005, at the suggestion of Larry Langford, The Jefferson County Commission voted to name the building the Private George Watson Criminal Justice Center in honor of World War II hero George Watson. In 2007 the Commission reversed that decision. The building remains dedicated in Watson's honor, and displays a portrait bust by sculptor Branko Medenica.

Construction of the building was completed in October 2009, but, owing to a financial crisis, it was left unopened until June 2010 in order to avoid initiating operational costs.

The 414-capacity jail went unused until December 2013, when reductions in lease payments negotiated as part of the county's exit from bankruptcy allowed the Sheriff's department to staff the facility. At that time about 200 inmates were transferred from the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center in Birmingham.

In the Summer of 2012, the Commission considered abandoning the new building and operating courthouse functions from leased space in Westlake Mall. In September the Commission negotiated reduced payments and a lease extension.

References

  • Gordon, Robert K. (April 11, 2007) "Work begins on $38 million Bessemer courthouse." The Birmingham News
  • Wright, Barnett (November 28, 2007) "Jefferson commissioners vote to take name of Army hero off Bessemer courthouse." The Birmingham News
  • Gordon, Robert K. (January 21, 2008) "Construction of new Jefferson County Courthouse in Bessemer on schedule." The Birmingham News
  • Wright, Barnett (January 13, 2010) "Jefferson County pays $5.3 million for vacant Bessemer Courthouse building." The Birmingham News
  • Debro, Anita (May 31, 2010) "Bessemer courthouse office occupants to start moving in June 21." The Birmingham News
  • Spencer, Thomas (July 26, 2010) "New Bessemer Cutoff courthouse opens with sleek look." The Birmingham News
  • White, David (February 9, 2012) "Informal agreement reached to open Bessemer county jail, Sheriff Mike Hale says." The Birmingham News
  • Wright, Barnett (August 20, 2012) "Jefferson County Commission rejects leases at Bessemer Courthouse, setting up potential closure." The Birmingham News
  • Wright, Barnett (September 25, 2012) "Jefferson County reaches agreement to keep open the Bessemer Cutoff Courthouse." The Birmingham News
  • Wright, Barnett (December 8, 2013) "Bessemer jail to reopen Dec. 16 with 200 inmates from Birmingham." The Birmingham News