The topping-out ceremony for the state’s $127 million justice center to house the two appellate courts has been reset for Tuesday.
The event—traditionally a time to celebrate for a contractor and construction crew—was canceled twice the week before Thanksgiving: first for the funeral of retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines, who had helped plan the building, then again because of rain and gloom.
“It’s been quite a conundrum,” said Morgan Smith-Williams, public relations coordinator for the State Properties Commission and Building Authority. Sunny skies are forecast Tuesday, but the temperature will be near freezing. Expect a fast ceremony. “We don’t want to keep people out in the cold,” she said.
The Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have been invited to a private lunch with the general contractor, Gilbane, at noon under tents pitched on the construction site. The public part of the event will start after that and wrap up within a half-hour, Smith-Williams said.
First, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton will give remarks. Then all the justices of the high court and judges of the intermediate appellate court will sign the last beam to be placed on the top. How do 24 people sign a steel beam in freezing weather? “I think just a regular extra fat Sharpie marker,” Smith-Williams said.
Typically it’s the construction crew and the contractors who sign the final beam, according to Smith-Williams, who also recently worked on a much bigger state construction project, the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
But this one is different because of its unique nature and tenants. “This building is so highly customized,” Smith-Williams said. “It’s a courthouse.”
After the judges sign the final beam, all will watch as the crew lifts it to its place atop the building. The justices and judges may take a private tour afterward. And, if anyone wants to talk later with representatives from the general contractor, Gilbane, or the architectural firm, Stevens & Wilkinson, that will likely be done inside the construction trailers parked on the 5-acre site—with heat, Smith-Williams suggested.
The total price tag for the project is up to about $127 million, according to the latest figures from the building authority chief financial officer, shared by Smith-Williams. So far, $119 million has been appropriated for construction, design and site preparation: $105 million for construction, $6.5 million and $7.5 million for design and site prep at different times, including demolishing the state archives building that was on the site. Plus, at the moment, the Georgia Building Authority has $8.5 million set aside for furniture, fixtures, and equipment related to the building.
The bulk of the financing came from $105 million worth of bonds sold in 2017, according to Building Authority Executive Director Steve Stancil.
Initial plans had been to open the building in August 2019. The ribbon-cutting ceremony has now been pushed to December, with hopes of moving judges and their staffs in during the holiday season and opening to the public at the start of 2020, Smith-Williams said.
The building doesn’t have a name yet. But legislative leaders have hinted they plan to take the opportunity to honor Gov. Nathan Deal. The building is the brick-and-mortar part of Deal’s vision for the state’s justice system, the first home for the intermediate and high appellate courts, which up until now have been jammed into state office buildings with the attorney general and other departments. Deal also is the governor who expanded both appellate courts and named more new judges than any of his predecessors.
By the time the building opens, Deal will no longer be governor, but it will have his name: the Nathan Deal Judicial Center.