Former Johnson City Seniors' Center being transformed into new Juvenile Court

Gary B. Gray • Mar 23, 2013 at 10:17 PM

The former Johnson City Seniors' Center’s parquet floors and ballroom dancers have vanished, and the building at 607 E. Myrtle Ave. is well on the way to becoming home to the city’s Juvenile Court.

A building permit was issued March 8, and Kingsport’s Armstrong Construction has been at the site since that time tearing out old ceilings, walls, HVAC duct work and other portions of what will be transformed into a renovated 10,000-square-foot structure, nearly doubling the size of the current court down the road at 102 W. Myrtle Ave.

“Right now we’re just in demolition mode,” said Orville Hensley, Armstrong superintendent. “We’re getting rid of the old ceilings and walls, cutting new openings in the masonry walls, and both the parquet floor and old stage have been removed.”

Hensley said it likely will be another few weeks before workers begin installing new walls and electrical. He also said the company has shored up much of the front of the building in preparation of enlarging the space to be used as a new foyer and waiting area.

“Electricians are here now installing temporary lighting,” he said. “As far as the outside, we’ve got a subcontractor that will be putting on a new roof. The city will later remove the existing driveway and reshape it. The city also will be repaving the parking lot.”

The city entered into a roughly $1.1 million contact with the company to renovate the former Seniors Center using a design by Thomas Weems Architects. If everything goes according to plan, Johnson City will open the doors to the completely renovated Juvenile Court near the first of next year.

Judge Sharon M. Green’s current court is only 13 feet wide. She has said this cramped space has caused tensions to rise in a setting meant for resolution, but the renovation will include a courtroom that will be about 25 to 35 feet wide.

Meanwhile, seniors quadrupled their capacity when Senior Services moved into the new Memorial Park Community Center on Dec. 8.

Green said court is held five days a week. And in a year, about 1,700 children will come through and 2,775 cases will be disposed of. She said the new site is an appropriate location for the court because of its proximity to local police zones, and it allows for the expansion of the courtroom facilities, including attorney conference rooms and administrative and other offices.

Bid documents for the renovation show the big-ticket items include roof replacement and new heating and cooling systems. The new courtroom will be carved out of the old gymnasium, increasing elbow room dramatically.

The new court also will include a conference room used for “child and family team meetings.” The drive-thru portion of the old center will be demolished to make way for a large lobby, or waiting area, that will double the number of chairs from 30 to 60, according to Green.

Just exactly what will happen to the existing Juvenile Court building and parking lot remains unknown, though there has been talk about converting it for an alternate municipal use.

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