Judges Look Forward to New Dickson County Justice Center

December 1, 2020

Twenty-Third Judicial District judges are eagerly anticipating the official opening of the new Dickson County Justice Center on Nov. 30 in Charlotte. The 70,000-square-foot, three-story building will house all of the county’s courts and offer a number of security and technological upgrades to judges and court users.

Justice Center is located just blocks away from the historic Dickson County Courthouse, which was built in 1833 and is the oldest operating courthouse in the state, most recently housing the county’s General Sessions Court. Circuit Court and Chancery Court have been held for years in a courthouse annex building that was constructed once the county outgrew the historic courthouse. Juvenile Court has been housed in yet another building, located away from the square.

Circuit Court Judge David Dee Wolfe is looking forward to the many improvements that the new Justice Center will provide, stating that it “has been designed to be state of the art.” He said that Dickson County Mayor Bob Rial had specifically sought input from local judges about what features they thought would be most important in a new courthouse building.

Judge Wolfe sees better security as one of the Justice Center’s greatest assets. Law enforcement officials who maintain courthouse security will now be able to focus all of their attention on just the new building instead of having to spread out across three different ones.

The Justice Center also comes equipped with certain other elements to enhance security. For instance, in the building all court users will go through one main entrance patrolled by the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office that features a metal detector and a baggage check. Only after visitors are screened will they be able to enter the main part of the Justice Center. Court employees will have a separate entrance.

Furthermore, the offices of judges and court staff will be located in a special, secure area removed from the general population of court users. Dedicated elevators will serve this area allowing judges and staff to come and go easily.

A dedicated elevator will also transport prisoners from a secure holding cell in the center of the building to the floor where they need to appear in court. This prevents them from having to walk through the general public.

“It is a beautiful building that has been designed extremely well,” Judge Wolfe said. “The security is something we’ve never had in the any of the five counties in the 23rd Judicial District.”

While security is one major advantage in the building, technology is another one. Circuit Court Judge Susan Lockert-Mash is looking forward to many upgrades that she expects will improve the functioning of the court.

“I’m most excited about the technological aspects of the new building,” she said. “It’s so much more advanced.”

To give one example, Judge Lockert-Mash said that customarily when an exhibit needs to be displayed in her courtroom, a television screen with wires hanging out of it would have to be wheeled in for everyone to see. Greater connectivity in the new courtroom will allow for laptop computers to easily plug in and display exhibits without a bunch of cords on the ground.

Judge Lockert-Mash is also excited to have more room in the courtroom.

“It could get very crowded,” she said of her old space.

Of course, in the midst of a pandemic that added space has an added advantage.

“The courtrooms are so large and spaced out,” Judge Wolfe said. “The jury is separated by a great distance from me and the counsel tables. Hopefully whenever we’re back to conducting jury trials we can still do so in a way to secure everyone’s safety.”

In all, the Dickson County Justice Center will contain five courtrooms, plus a large jury assembly room that can also be used for other purposes as needed. The top two floors are where Circuit Court, Chancery Court, General Sessions Court, and Probate Court will be located. Juvenile Court will be located on the lower floor.

While much of the focus for the new building was on functionality, Dickson County Mayor Bob Rial also thought it was important for the Justice Center to look the part in historic Charlotte. As such, great pains were taken by architects Wold | HFR Design to make the building fit in to its surroundings.

“Dickson County has needed this new facility for years,” said Bob Rial, Dickson County’s Mayor. “The facility is state-of-the-art on the inside, but it maintains the look and feel of Charlotte and the surrounding buildings in our historic square that make it so special.”

That sentiment was echoed by the architectural firm.

“Our team, along with T.W. Frierson, the project’s construction manager, worked closely with the county to design and construct this building and maintain the look of Charlotte’s Courthouse Square Historic District, while increasing functionality of the city’s court system,” said Stephen Griffin, principal at Wold | HFR. “We’re pleased we were able to bring the county’s vision to life.”

With just days to go before the opening of the new Justice Center, Judge Wolfe worked to move items from his old chambers in the Annex to his new space. It was almost time to say goodbye to his courtroom home of many years. His attention, though, was on the future and the new chapter in a rich history that was soon set to begin in the new Dickson County Justice Center.

“We’re very excited about it,” Judge Wolfe said. “It’s a long time coming.”

The Dickson County Justice Center (Photo credit: Wold | HFR Design)

A look inside the new Justice Center (Photo credit: Jim Blackstock)

One of the courtrooms in the Justice Center (Photo credit: Jim Blackstock)