Magistrate court may be on the move

NEW CUMBERLAND – Stymied by one building issue, Hancock County commissioners may have solved another one.

Commissioners learned Tuesday that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has given its OK for Hancock County Magistrate Court to move to the old New Cumberland Dollar General building on North Chester Street.

Commissioner Dan Greathouse said he hopes Magistrate Court, currently housed in a small, two-story building on South Court Street, can move to its new home by the end of the year.

Commissioners bought the Dollar General building in February for $232,000 after learning the store was moving to the former site of the Mid-Ridge Cafe on Ridge Avenue. The county already owns the land adjacent to the old Dollar General, as far south as Paula’s House of Pets & Grooming.

Commissioners bought the 7,000-square-foot building in the hopes of using it for storage or other purposes.

“Since before we bought it, we’ve been talking about it. We’ve been wanting to do something with the Magistrate Court really badly,” Greathouse said.

Magistrate Court, although at its current location for about 30 years, recently has become a bone of contention between commissioners and New Cumberland attorney Larry Manypenny, whose law office is next door to the court building. Manypenny claims ownership of the land up to and including the court’s enclosed staircase and wants commissioners to compensate him for the county’s use of the land.

Commissioners took Manypenny to court in February, asking for a permanent injunction to keep Manypenny from blocking access to the court building. The dispute remains unsettled, but Greathouse said moving Magistrate Court may “resolve some of that issue.”

Greathouse said the Magistrate Court building could be razed to make room for parking spaces.

“That building’s old. It’s tight quarters. It’s not a good building for them,” he said. “Our intention is to tear that building down.”

If so, it would be in keeping with an assessment made by the West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority in 2003. The state agency recommended the Magistrate Court building be demolished and the space used for a parking lot. Nothing was ever done with the report, which also recommended the construction of a 50,000-square-foot judicial annex to house the county circuit, magistrate and family law courts.

With the Supreme Court’s OK, commissioners now will advertise for an architect to come up with a design for the new Magistrate Court home, Greathouse said.

Manypenny’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Commissioners also are considering their options three weeks after rejecting the construction bids for a two-building complex that would house the 911 Dispatch Center, the Hancock County Office of Emergency Management and the Hancock County Health Department.

All six bids came in well over the project estimate of $5 million.

“We had a pretty solid figure, so we were pretty shocked (at the estimates),” Greathouse said.

Commissioners have asked project architect L.R. Kimball, of Ebensburg, Pa., to come up with a new project estimate and report back to them by the end of July.

Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county’s Office of Technology and Communication, said there may be ways to reduce the anticipated construction costs.

“We are going back and looking with our engineer (Kimball) as to where this thing might have been skewed,” Zielinsky said. “There had to be a reason for the building cost being so much.”

Even though Zielinsky is retiring at the end of this month, commissioners have agreed to keep him on temporarily as a part-time employee to deal with the 911 Center and other issues.

“I just didn’t want to walk away with a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied up,” he said.

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