New Pearl River County Courthouse Annex opens in Poplarville
May 19, 2020
Chancellor Rhea Sheldon convened court for the first time Monday in a new courthouse in Poplarville.
The recently completed courthouse, formally named the Pearl River County Courthouse Annex, will house offices of the Pearl River County Chancery Clerk, the Pearl River County Court and Youth Court, the District Attorney and the Pearl River County Tax Collector. Two courtrooms will serve the Chancery and County Courts. Offices of the Chancery Clerk, District Attorney and Tax Collector previously were spread among three buildings in Poplarville, and the County Court and Youth Court offices were in Picayune. Circuit Court will remain in the Circuit Courthouse in Poplarville.
“This is a very nice facility,” Judge Sheldon said. “It gives the citizens something to be very proud of to have a modern, safe courthouse.”
“What a beautiful courtroom,” Hattiesburg attorney Cynthia Re said during a break between proceedings.
Rep. Jansen Owen of Poplarville had business at the new courthouse and enjoyed a quick tour of the clerk’s office, conference rooms and file rooms. He said afterwards, “The courthouse is the beacon of justice that the citizens of Pearl River County often turn to in both their darkest and brightest of times. I’m proud of the work our Board of Supervisors and our County Administrator did to ensure that our courthouse will continue to shine as that beacon of justice, serving the citizens of Pearl River County for many generations to come.”
The two-story yellow and brown brick 40,000 square foot structure took 18 months to build, said Pearl River County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin. Planning started in 2008. The finished project, including construction, furnishings and information technology, cost about $8 million. Landry Lewis Germany Architects of Hattiesburg designed the building. Hanco Corp General Contractors of Hattiesburg built it.
With large assemblies barred as a safety precaution against COVID-19, local officials had to put off a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the new facility. Judge Sheldon went right into hearing previously scheduled cases. Monday’s docket included an adoption, a custody modification, a proposed guardianship for an elderly citizen and a property division.
A deputy with a thermometer and a bottle of hand sanitizer met everyone at the front door. People with business before the court waited in their cars until called. In the courtroom, Judge Sheldon, court staff and attorneys wore masks. Only 15 seats for spectators have been installed, arranged in sets of three with lots of space between. After each hearing, Judge Sheldon and Bailiff Henry Letort sprayed disinfectant and wiped down surfaces where people had been.
Officials are still moving in. The Chancery Clerk’s office won’t officially open in the new courthouse until all the court files and land records have been moved. Chancery Clerk Melinda Bowman said that during the past two weeks, her staff have moved more than 27,000 files dating from 1902 to 1998. The move continues. Clerk’s staff have used office carts and a county utility vehicle to wheel the files over from the old Chancery Court offices down the street.
Some of the very old files are damaged from having been housed in a space where water got inside during rains, Bowman said. “It supported wildlife,” she said of the old room. A bullfrog was once found inside. Those files, which await restoration, are in a historic records room separate from the main file room in the new building.
The old Chancery Building, a gray one-story structure that was once a hospital, had issues with security with its multiple entrances. Wiring does not accommodate high speed internet, limiting the use of court technology. “It was eaten up with termites,” Judge Sheldon said.
The old building is expected to be torn down. A parking lot will be built in its place.