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Courthouse will get reconfigured

KINGWOOD — For 89 years, the Preston County Courthouse has served the residents of Preston County.

It replaced a brick courthouse that was torn down in 1933. The sandstone for its facades was quarried locally, and the final cost of constructing it was $113,500.19.

The building was dedicated Aug. 25, 1934.

Recently a reconfiguring of the courthouse was approved by the state Supreme Court, according to an email from Pat Moats, director, Division of Technology and Facility Services at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Changes being made will make room for an office and courtroom for a second circuit judge, who will take office January 2025.

According to the blueprints, the reconfiguration will impact only the second floor of the building. The offices most affected by the change will be magistrate court, which led to Magistrate Bo Ward telling commissioners during a recent commission meeting that members of the magistrate court had no say in the changes that were to be made to the second floor.

According to records, last year the magistrate court handled 2,000-plus cases. Some of the cases this number doesn’t include are mental hygiene cases, civil cases, protective orders, fugitive from justice arraignments and personal safety orders. Cases such as mental hygiene, protective orders and all appealed cases go through magistrate court before being sent to circuit court, which is located on the third floor.

In an email, County Administrator Nathan Raybeck said Preston and Tucker counties will constitute the 22nd Circuit and will have two judges with the additional circuit judge to be elected at the regularly scheduled election held in 2024. He said the two counties will share the new circuit judge, and according to Raybeck, the new judge will only be in Tucker County one day each week.

Circuit Judge Stephen Shaffer said the state Legislature and the Supreme Court awarded a second judge because abuse and neglect and felony cases have raised significantly since 2011. He said between 2011-13, there were 115 abuse and neglect cases and 242 felony cases. From 2019-21, Shaffer said the numbers rose to 366 abuse and neglect cases and 430 felony cases, almost doubling the earlier numbers.

“These numbers don’t include civil cases, juvenile cases, habias cases, guardianship cases and all other cases,” he said.

Shaffer said the new judge will be located on the second floor and will be using the current magistrate courtroom as a second circuit court courtroom. He said a new courtroom will be provided for the magistrate court.

“The new magistrate’s courtroom will be constructed on the second floor,” he said. “All of the courts will be in the courthouse where security is already in place,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer said the entire construction project will take place without any interruptions in services. He said he spent between 100 and 150 hours working on the project with the architects, the county commission and the supreme court.

“I worked with a historical architect from the Mills Group and the historical nature of the court house will be maintained. I’m proud of this building and I don’t let anyone disrespect it,” he said.

Shaffer said reconstruction work on the courthouse will begin by April 1, and it will take possibly six to seven months to complete.

“Both the magistrates and the second judge will have nice offices and court rooms when it is completed,” Shaffer said. “All the state guidelines have been met. The supreme court has seen to that.”

Earlier, commissioner Samantha Stone said the county has received $100,000 in funds from the Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority (CFIA) to go toward the reconstruction. She said the current courthouse project is expected to be $500,000. Stone said the commission has not yet received any other grant monies for the project.

She said the West Virginia Legislature created CFIA in 2021 to assist county governments with funding to modify existent courthouse facilities and to construct new courthouse structures.