By Morgan Bryce
Local dignitaries, judges and members of the Lee County Commission, Revenue Office and Opelika Chamber of Commerce will hold a joint ribbon-cutting ceremony June 3 at 5 p.m. to commemorate the opening of the new Lee County Courthouse annex.
Closing for two days last month to finish their move from the courthouse’s first floor to the annex, Lee County Revenue Commissioner Oline Price and her staff have been operating out of their new offices since April 15.
County Administrator Roger Rendleman said the annex’s opening is the fruition of a promise he made to Price shortly after she took office in 2003.
“I remember standing against of those modular units and talking to (Price) … her workspace and the entire office staff was just completely on top of each other. I told her that this problem was only temporary … I just didn’t qualify how long temporary was,” Rendleman said laughingly.
A seamless segue
Rendleman said the first phase of enlarging and expanding the county administration’s work space began with the completion of the Bennie Adkins Meeting Center (previously known as the Lee County Meeting Center) in 2015, which currently houses the appraisal department and board of registrars.
Next for Rendleman and his team was concocting a vision for what the courthouse annex would look like, desiring to create a space modern in function but traditional in its appearance and design.
Local architect John Randall Wilson has done previous projects for the county, always with a priority on making sure the project fit the surroundings, Rendleman said. With approval from the county commission, Wilson was hired for the project.
Following two years of planning, construction began in summer 2017 and was finished earlier this year.
From the building’s brickwork to its facade, Rendleman said he believes Wilson helped capture the essence of the original courthouse and make the annex a beautiful addition to the downtown Opelika skyline.
“I’m really pleased that we met the goal of building something a little more modern with space to grow, all the while respecting the past, which is something that Wilson did really well. Some people think that the back of the building is actually the front, which tells me that he did a great job of tying it all together,” Rendleman said.
“This is a huge thing for downtown Opelika. In less than five years, we’ve built a new fire department, we’ve done these improvements to help the county catch up to the 21st century and we’re going to have a new police department completed soon,” Price added. “Paired with the entertainment district that has been created and being added onto, downtown Opelika is a beautiful place and a destination for many.”
The annex consists of two stories and a street-level parking deck for county employees only, with the revenue office occupying the entirety of its first floor. This provides “much needed” elbow room for the county’s revenue office and underlying departments, according to Price.
Lee County Probate Judge Bill English and his staff will fill some of the void left behind on the courthouse’s first floor by the revenue office, leaving space for their department or others to grow, Rendleman said. He added that there will be renovations to improve overall lighting and installation of storefront glass in the hallways to create a “better, lighter atmosphere.”
The county’s human resources and information technology departments, along with the Lee County Commission and its offices, comprise the courthouse’s second floor. Commission meetings are now held in the recently refurbished chambers once used by Judge J.L. Tyner and the Lee County Board of Education.
With the addition of a new parking lot off Tenth Street, the public will now have two main entrances to use to enter the courthouse.
Enhanced security measures including ID badges and the presence of a court security officer during the courthouse’s hours of operation are a few of the ways the county aims to modernize its systems and maintain a safe environment.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled take place on the steps of the new Tenth Street entrance to the courthouse, but may be moved indoors if it rains.
Following the ceremony will be a “Business After Hours” event in the annex, sponsored by the Auburn Industrial Development Board and the Opelika Industrial Development Authority.
For more information or updates, call 334-737-3656 or visit www.leeco.us.