THOMASVILLE -- The architect for renovation of the Thomas County Courthouse and erection of a judicial building conducted his first meeting with citizens Tuesday.

Attendance was sparse.

Valdosta architect Rusty McCall said he will visit members of the community designated for initial input if they do not attend meetings.

"We want citizens' input," interjected Thomas County Commission Vice Chairman I.L. Mullins. "This is a community thing. We're working together."

And, Mullins said, it will be the responsibility of county commissioners to gather citizen input and to ensure people attend meetings between McCall and commissioners.

"It's the people's building. That's what it is. It's where the people's business is conducted," McCall explained. " ... I'm here to listen to the community."

Katrina Kiser, a member of Ochlocknee City Council, said residents of her town want to ensure that the courthouse's grandeur and its symbolism as a place of justice remain intact.

Kiser described entering the city at night from West Jackson Street, with the courthouse clock tower and the steeple of nearby First Baptist Church visible.

The judicial building should not diffuse focus from the courthouse, McCall said, pointing out that the 146-year-old Thomas courthouse is the oldest functioning county office hub in Georgia.

For three months, McCall will gather information about what is needed, keeping in mind that the community's history and tradition are critically important.

"I have no preconceived ideas. I'm here to listen to the community," McCall said.

In response to a question from citizen Jack Hadley about the judicial building's design, the architect said. " ... It must fit into the historic and traditional fabric of this community."

Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell asked McCall if it is safe to assume the clerk of court's office would be located in the new building.

Generally, McCall said, all court-related facilities would be in such a building.

The district attorney's office also must be kept in mind, said commissioner Mary Jo Beverly.

Pointing out the county's population of close to 45,000 -- and growing -- Powell said a minimum of two new courtrooms is needed.

McCall assured the sheriff he would be "very much involved" in planning the judicial building. He told Powell he is sensitive to jail inmate transports and related security in a court facility.

The architect said he will document the number of court events Thomas County has, including juried ones, and plan for increasing activity in the future.

"I would like to have the building look historically accurate," said Tom Hill, curator of the Thomas County Historical Society Museum. Visitors come to Thomasville looking for Small Town USA -- and find it, he added.

Beverly said the renovated courthouse and new building must be convenient for those who use county services.

Officials pointed out that employees of the same departments in county government are housed on different floors of the courthouse and in at least one instance in different buildings.

Other buildings housing county offices need work, said Commissioner Elaine Mays. It would be more prudent to renovate the courthouse than spend money on several other buildings, she explained.

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