Federal probation office extending stay in historic Beaufort courthouse

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJuly 11, 2014 

A probation office will stay in the historic federal courthouse in Beaufort for a little longer, according to local officials.

Beaufort County and the federal General Services Administration are working on an agreement to let the federal government stay at the courthouse at 1501 Bay St. for about 90 more days, county administrator Gary Kubic said.

For starters, the county already has agreed to extend the government's lease on about 1,400 square feet at the courthouse until Aug. 10, county attorney Josh Gruber said. The lease was originally set to expire last week.

The government had planned to move its U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System office from the courthouse to more than 1,600 square feet of space in the city's Police Department and Municipal Court building earlier this month. The move would have begun a new 10-year lease there.

However, the government and city are still designing the new space and need more time to seek construction bids and perform renovations, city manager Scott Dadson said.

"We have been working diligently with them, and hopefully, we'll have it ready by late summer or early fall," Dadson said.

Attempts last week to reach Dickie Brunson, U.S. Probation Office South Carolina district chief, were unsuccessful.

For now, the General Services Administration will work out a short-term agreement while the county decides what to do with the courthouse long-term, Gruber said.

"We don't have anybody who is going to be moving in there tomorrow, so it made sense for them to stay in there," Gruber said. "They only use a portion of that building, so we could move some things over there if we decide to."

County officials have considered moving some offices to the courthouse to provide more space at its administrative building at 100 Ribaut Road in Beaufort. The courthouse could also become home to the county's Magistrate Court, which is in the deteriorating Arthur Horne building at 104 Ribaut Road, officials have said.

Another possibility is renting or selling it to a private entity. The county plans to seek public bids in August, county officials said.

Local leaders have said they hope the historic 19th century building's ornate courtroom and offices will be made available to the public.

The federal government has leased the historic courthouse at the corner of Bladen and Bay streets from the county for more than 20 years. Federal officials announced in 2012 the courthouse would be one of six throughout the South to close, as part of an effort to save more than $1 million a year in rent.

In May, the city of Beaufort agreed to lease part of its municipal police and court building to the federal government, Dadson said. The federal government will pay about $60,000 a year for the first five years of the 10-year lease. That amount includes renovating the building to accommodate the probation office. After that, it will pay about $50,000 a year for the remainder of the lease.

The renovations will not affect the court area or the public's use of the municipal building, Dadson said. Police administrative offices will move to the second floor.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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