Visitors to the large, dimly lit space at the former Decker Mall this week could be excused for thinking they stumbled onto the set of a courtroom drama.
Several people milled about in a bit of a rehearsal, getting a feel for the height and width of unfinished plywood benches, tables and podiums put in place to accommodate all the roles in court, from judge to jury. Although the furnishings were simulations, they laid the foundation for the making of a real courtroom – and Richland County’s efforts to revitalize the old shopping center at Decker Boulevard and O’Neil Court into a new Decker Center.
“There’s going to be a great deal of excitement when this mall comes back to life,” said Richland County Councilman Jim Manning, who, along with Councilmen Greg Pearce and Damon Jeter, stopped by one morning to see the progress. Manning, who represents the area, said he wants residents to know work is being done at the center – even though it’s not obvious from the outside.
The revamped building will house the Richland County Central Court. In addition, a Richland County Sheriff’s Department regional headquarters will be located at the site, as well as some County administrative offices and a community room.
“There really is a lot happening on the inside,” Manning said.
With the sound of hammering and drilling echoing throughout the cavernous building, Richland County Chief Magistrate Judge Donald Simons, other judges and court staff gave feedback to architects on the functionality of design specifications. The mock courtroom featured a representation of the judge’s bench, clerk’s station, jury box, attorneys’ tables, gallery area and courtroom walls, all constructed to scale.
The plywood-construction set is helping the project team better understand spatial relationships in the courtroom and gives court staff the opportunity to try out various locations and understand sight lines. When a clerk sat at one of the tables, she pointed out something wasn’t quite right for accessing files quickly and easily during a trial.
“That's why we do these mock-ups,” said Chris Beard, project manager for the Boudreaux Design Firm. “It looked good on paper.”
Rick Macia, a courtroom design expert with Carter Goble Lee architectural firm, took additional measurements on the table and made notes on a stack of plans.
“The mock-up marks a significant milestone as we begin the process of finalizing the floor plan of the facility,” said Chad Fosnight, the Capital Projects Program Manager for Richland County.
Manning said residents are eager to take advantage of all the amenities the center will offer, including a site for local festivals in the large parking lot and, of course, having a hub of government activity in the center of the community.
“I’m real excited for the citizens to see we are making progress,” Manning said. “The County is moving ahead on this project.”