County, church to negate land deal for new courthouse

First Baptist Church Gallatin’s parking lot and youth ministry building property was identified earlier this year by a judicial planning firm as the recommended site to build a proposed new courthouse. The county’s existing juvenile courthouse property on the opposite side of the church is listed as an alternative site. SUBMITTED

First Baptist Church Gallatin and Sumner County officials have begun initial discussions regarding a potential transfer of property that would become the future home of a proposed new courthouse in downtown Gallatin.  

Church members voted unanimously earlier this month to enter into negotiations with the county to possibly trade the church’s parking lot and youth ministry building property on East Main Street in return for the neighboring juvenile courthouse property on the opposite side of the church, according to Travis Fleming, senior pastor of First Baptist Gallatin.

Both approximately 2-acre sites were identified as the preferred locations for a new courthouse in a May report from South Carolina-based judicial planning firm Justice Planning Associates. However, the church property located next to the Gallatin Public Library was listed as the preferred location.

“We just want to work together and come to a solution that works best for their church but also works best for us to serve the citizens,” Commissioner Leslie Schell said, regarding a potential deal. “That’s really all it boils down to.”

First Baptist Gallatin’s courthouse committee is expected to make a proposal to the county before the end of the year. Any deal would be subject to approval by a majority vote of the church’s members as well as the County Commission.

If an agreement cannot be reached, Schell said the proposed new courthouse could still be built on the existing county-owned juvenile court property if that was “the best course to move forward.”

County leaders chose to hire JPA last year to conduct a review of its criminal justice and court system facilities following several emergency funding requests for building repair projects.

The evaluation found the court buildings to be “extremely inefficient” and the existing courthouse to be a “dangerous building,” according to Mike Thomas, president of JPA.

No building reviewed received the firm’s highest rankings of adequate or appropriate.

“That is not a good situation and it hasn’t been a good situation for a long time,” Thomas told county commissioners in May.

Following the report, county leaders approved spending up to $5.7 million for design and consulting work for all of JPA’s recommended projects aimed at addressing the current and future needs of the county’s criminal justice and court system facilities.

The suggested budgets for each of the recommendations includes $78 million for the construction of a new courthouse, $10 million for the jail and sheriff’s office expansions and $8.1 million to renovate the existing courthouse, according to the JPA report.

County leaders signed off on an agreement to hire Gallatin-based NoBox Development as a project management consultant earlier this month. An architect is expected to be selected in early 2019, according to Schell.

Despite the cost estimate, officials have stated that the total price tag could change depending on the design of the building and scope of the projects.

 “We have some pretty good estimates from JPA, but design can take the project one way or the other,” Schell added. “Once we get actual designs, then we can get some hard numbers on exactly what it is going to cost.”

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