Ribbon cutting for new Bessemer courthouse next week

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The new Jefferson County courthouse in Bessemer will officially open Monday.

Bettye Fine Collins, president of the Jefferson County Commission, announced Wednesday in a statement to FOX6 News a ribbon cutting ceremony will be held Monday, April 26, at 10 a.m. on the front steps to the new Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center at 1851 2nd Avenue North.

The $38 million courthouse was completed in December but never opened due to the financial crisis last year over the old occupational tax. Collins had opposed opening the building because of the cost of hiring additional workers and security, but changed her mind because warranties on the building were running out and utilities had to be paid on both the new building and the current courthouse.

"We need to be sure there is no problem with the structure itself," Collins said. "As to the components of heating and cooling systems, this will give us time to get all of those kinds worked out."

Circuit Clerk Benny Watson on Wednesday welcomed the news.

"We will have a lot more room to deal with the public," Watson said. "They will be able to see how more efficient we will be."

Presiding Court Judge Teresa Petelos said the new building will provide better security for the public and court personnel. Petelos says it will take some time to move into the justice center.

"It will take planning," Petelos said. "We had notices to go out to defendants, attorneys and jurors. It will take some planning."

Collins said the county will 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.

Despite the concern about the cost of opening the justice center, at least one county commissioner says it will be a plus for all of downtown Bessemer.

"It's going to be an economic boom to Bessemer because there is still $8 million of the bond money to remodel the annex, where the judges are moving from," Bobby Humphryes, Jefferson Co. Commissioner said.

Collins said last week 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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