New Bessemer courthouse may soon open

By Alan Collins

BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - The new, but unopened $38 million courthouse in Bessemer may soon open.

Jefferson Co. Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said Thursday thec county may open the building by June. Collins said not opening the building is already costing the county with utilities.  Plus, she said the warranties on the building are running out.

"We need to occupy that building to see if there are any claims we need to make under the warranties," Collins said. "That's the reason I brought it up today. The clock is ticking."

The new courthouse was completed in December but never opened due to the financial crisis last year over the old occupational tax. This concerned those who work at the old building.

"There is a lot of frustration of people at the courthouse," Teresa Petelos, Jefferson. Co. Presiding Court Judge said. "That beautiful new building is sitting empty."

The county may tap into the some of the funds from the SEC's settlement with J-P Morgan to open the courthouse. County officials estimate it will cost the county about $500,000 to open the building.

"It would be wonderful to get into the new courthouse," Petelos said. "This courthouse has lot of deficiencies. Heat doesn't work. Air doesn't work."

There is still no word on whether the expanded jail will reopen. Sheriff Mike Hale closed it after taking a $10 million budget hit last year.

Even though the Jefferson County Commission is considering opening the new courthouse, most on the commission consider the project a mistake.

"It is obvious we can't afford to pay that," said Jefferson Co. Commissioner Jim Carns. "It's a debt."

Collins said it costs about $5 million a year to pay the debt service on the building. The county hopes to start at some point renovating the old courthouse annex once all the courts and district attorney offices are relocated.

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