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Courthouse Addition Opens with Pomp and Praise

Moss Construction comes in at more than $1 million under budget on $42 million project.

OCALA—The new Marion County Judicial Center, which officials hope will serve as a “beacon” in a revitalized downtown, opened its doors to the public this past February. Adding 146,520 square feet of space to the existing courthouse, the new construction features four new courtrooms, a large jury assembly area and a ground-floor arraignment room that can accommodate large numbers, in addition to new office space and hearing rooms.

“This is a magnificent building,” said Administrative Judge David Eddy in remarks to fellow judges, attorneys, county leaders, the sheriff, his deputies, courthouse staff and members of the public during a fanfare-marked ceremony to celebration the occasion.

“It is for the citizens of Marion County for whom this building was constructed,” the judge said.

A crowd of at least 200 gathered in the lobby area by the main entrance, where glass windows provide a panoramic view to the outside. Despite the steady drizzle outside, the indoor ceremony was brightened by a Presentation of Colors by members of Marion County Fire Rescue and the Sheriff's Office, a patriotic medley performed by Sheriff's Office Pipes & Drums, and a solo national anthem sung by Joseph McMillan, a local firefighter.

The roughly half-hour-long ceremony, presided over by County Administrator Lee A. Niblock, was capped off with a ribboncutting involving the county and circuit judges. Supported by 70 steel shafts that are anchored 105 feet below ground, the new five-story complex took two years to build and is the largest capital project in the history of Marion County. The State Attorney's Office now occupies the fifth and topmost floor, while the third and fourth floors of the building have been shelled-in for future growth.

“This is a beautiful building on the outside. It will become a beautiful building on the inside,” said Clerk of the Court David Ellspermann. He reminded his staff that it is importance to “apply ourselves to those in need” — the public who will most make use of the space.

“Cities are defined by their iconic buildings. This is Marion County's iconic building,” said Joseph Rispoli, senior partner of Ocala's Architecture Studio Inc. who, along with co-partner Roland Sosa, designed the space, which he said he hopes will “illuminate the downtown area” and serve as its “beacon.”

Although all judges had the option to move their chambers, only County Judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams chose to move into a new office by the northwest side of the building.

The new structure marks the fifth major development in the history of Marion County courthouses. The other buildings—and additions—were the Ocala Courthouse of 1851, Ocala Courthouse of 1907, and the existing Judicial Center, which was built in the 1960s and expanded in 1991.

Honored at the ceremony with a special plaque was Senior Judge Victor Musleh, who, as former Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial Circuit, urged the County Commission to approve plans for a new courthouse.

“We went around and around on it,” recalled Musleh, 76, who retired in 2007. Musleh estimates it took nearly two years of talks before the County Commission voted, 3-2, to approve the construction of the new building.

“It worked out quite well,” said the judge, as he gestured towards the gleaming open space. The project, undertaken by Moss Construction, began in October 2007 with a budgeted cost of $42 million and was completed at more $1 million under budget, according to a county news release.

For more information, please contact Suevon Lee at (352) 867-4065 or suevon.lee@starbanner.com. Copyright © 2010 www.Ocala.com — All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission from the Ocala Star-Banner. First published February 12, 2010.

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