Turning the first shovels on Georgia's new Judicial Complex Thursday were (from left) former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Hugh Thompson, Justice Nels Peterson, Justice Robert Benham, Justice Harold Melton, Chief Justice Harris Hines, Gov. Nathan Deal, Justice Keith Blackwell, Justice Michael Boggs and Justice Britt Grant.
Turning the first shovels on Georgia’s new Judicial Complex Thursday were (from left) former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Hugh Thompson, Justice Nels Peterson, Justice Robert Benham, Justice Harold Melton, Chief Justice Harris Hines, Gov. Nathan Deal, Justice Keith Blackwell, Justice Michael Boggs and Justice Britt Grant. (Ashley Stollar)

A crowd gathered in the rain Thursday morning to break ground on the $122 million Georgia Judicial Complex near the State Capitol.

Only when Gov. Nathan Deal spoke about one of his favorite subjects—the history of the appellate courts in Georgia—did the clouds part for a few minutes.

“I’m not sure what that means,” said Steve Stancil, executive director of the Georgia Building Authority, who is managing the project. “But I learned a lot. I didn’t know that for the first 68 years of our existence, we didn’t have a Supreme Court.”

And until now, Georgia has never had a home for its Supreme Court.

With the first few shovels of dirt pitched by justices of the Supreme Court and judges from the Georgia Court of Appeals—which will share the building—work has begun.

“We plan to start pouring concrete and erecting steel next week,” Stancil said.

State of Georgia Judicial Complex rendering

The state sold $105 million worth of bonds this summer for the major piece of the financing, approved by the General Assembly this year. The first seed of financing came with a $7.5 million outlay two years ago for design. Last year, the state set aside $6.5 million to demolish the abandoned Georgia Archives Building that was on the site. An additional $3.5 million came from a supplemental budget appropriation this year to finish the cleanup, which included removal of toxic chemicals from a dry cleaner and gas station once on the land, Stancil said.

For the next two years, visitors to Georgia’s Capitol Hill area will be able to watch the construction progress.

“I have a ribbon-cutting in early September 2019,” Stancil said.

With the opening date the year Deal leaves office, the building will be the final piece of the justice agenda of a governor who’s also a lawyer and former judge. He stood near the same spot on a cold Sunday morning in March to watch the dramatic implosion of the block-shaped archive building. The state abandoned it decades ago because it was sinking and would have cost $40 million to repair. Deal backed the teardown to make way for a building devoted exclusively to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, which now share space in the law department’s office building.

“The building now is from the Eisenhower era,” Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines said after implosion. “The new building will be a signature building for our state.” Hines credited the governor’s passion for the project with making it happen.

Deal has described the building as a much-needed home to the highest courts “for the next 100 years.”