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Noise early concern as Benton County court expansion construction begins

by Mike Jones | February 22, 2021 at 7:25 a.m.
A construction site is shown, Thursday, February 11, 2021 at the Courthouse in Bentonville. Check out nwaonline.com/210212Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

BENTONVILLE -- Construction noise from the courthouse expansion has interrupted at least one Benton County court, but the judge involved understands.

Construction of a $3.1 million expansion of the historic Benton County Courthouse began Feb. 1. Substantial completion should be accomplished by Oct. 25, said Bryan Beeson, county facilities administrator.

A new courtroom is needed for Christine Horwart, who was elected in March and is the county's seventh circuit court judge.

Horwart's courtroom and office area will be on the second floor of the addition. A lobby will be on the first floor. The expansion will add 5,500 square feet to the 28,000-square-foot courthouse.

Benton County Circuit Judge John Scott said he has halted court twice because of jackhammering outside. Scott, though, doesn't expect the construction to cause any serious problems.

"Probably the biggest issue is working with the court dockets," Beeson said. "We had to shut down some work that was too noisy when Judge Scott was conducting a trial."

Scott said he appreciates the cooperation he's received from the county. Workers have waited to the noon hours and have started working before court starts to mitigate interference.

Work crews battled freezing temperatures Feb. 8-9 to start moving underground water and sewer lines, Beeson said. Work stopped last Feb. 10 as the weather worsened, then snow moved in last week. Crews worked Friday to uncover the main water line that needs to be moved, Beeson said.

A vacant, one-story building east of the courthouse was demolished in December. The building previously housed the Benton County coroner's office. Now it is a matter of getting the building pad into shape, Beeson said. Concrete should start to be poured in March, he said.

Washington County also has a new circuit judge. Diane Warren's courtroom is in the Washington County Courthouse Annex, 123 N. College Ave.

For now, Horwart's courtroom and chamber are in a remodeled area in the courthouse last used as a courtroom in 2012. Her courtroom is 888 square feet.

Horwart held her first day of court Jan. 4 after she was sworn in by her former law partner Tom Smith, who also is a Benton County circuit judge. He oversees juvenile cases.

Horwart will hear all domestic relations and probate cases until the new courtroom is completed because those cases don't allow for jury trials. Her courtroom isn't large enough for a jury box. The new courtroom will be 1,450 square feet with a jury box.

The construction also will allow for expanded parking on the east side of the courthouse and will add a connecting walkway from the courthouse to the Benton County Administration Building, said Channing Barker, county communications director.

A new lobby will include two areas for deputies to provide a better flow into the building. A large canopy will be on the building to protect people who are standing outside from the weather, Beeson said.

The courthouse's south entrance on East Central Avenue closed Jan. 29 in anticipation of construction starting. The front doors, at the top of a 16-step staircase on the building's west side, are the only public entry into the courthouse.

The west entrance was closed after the county opened the judicial tower in 2001. The tower, or south entry, provided the main entrance point to the courthouse and brought the building into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Anyone who cannot walk up the front steps can call 479-268-9611, and a Sheriff's Office deputy will allow them to enter through a door on the building's north side used by employees, Beeson said.

"The entrance to the courthouse that we opened on the west side has gone very well. No issues," Beeson said.

A construction site is shown, Thursday, February 11, 2021 at the Courthouse in Bentonville. Check out nwaonline.com/210212Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
A construction site is shown, Thursday, February 11, 2021 at the Courthouse in Bentonville. Check out nwaonline.com/210212Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
A construction site is shown, Thursday, February 11, 2021 at the Courthouse in Bentonville. Check out nwaonline.com/210212Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
A construction site is shown, Thursday, February 11, 2021 at the Courthouse in Bentonville. Check out nwaonline.com/210212Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
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The cost

Benton County will finance the $3.1 million courthouse expansion. It secured the loan from Regions Bank for five years at 1.59% with no prepayment penalty, said Brenda Guenther, county comptroller.

Source: Benton County

Mike Jones may be reached by email at [email protected] Tracy Neal contributed to this report.

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