CRESTVIEW — The Okaloosa County Courthouse is bustling these days, but judges, bailiffs, defendants and attorneys are no longer the focus of activity.
While Judge Terry Ketchel heard some routine cases Wednesday morning, the main action was in the hallways and offices below his courtroom, where movers temporarily relocated Clerk of Circuit Court workers and moved their furniture across U.S. Highway 90 to the former Okaloosa Memorial Hospital.
“Everybody has to play musical chairs so we can move the furniture across the street,” Clerk of Court J.D. Peacock said, pausing to look through the window of his old office, which, for the next week, houses child support and domestic relations services.
The two-year relocation has forced Peacock and his team to rethink how their services are provided, affording an opportunity to create efficiencies in day-to-day operations.
“Actually, it’s not a choice; it’s a have-to,” Peacock said. "The way we do business is going from a paper-based world to a digital world. As the workload shifts, it forces us to look at process efficiencies.”
Toward that goal, a large portion of the new office space is dedicated to receiving, processing and storing digital files.
“Attorneys file most of their documents through an electronic portal so they don’t actually have to come down here, so it’s an efficiency gain,” Peacock said.
One benefit the move brings is it unites most of Peacock’s functions in one area, he said. Until the move, his department’s many services have been scattered throughout the courthouse, the result of piecemeal expansions over decades.
“We’re able to gain efficiencies just by being together,” Peacock said.
After the first week of April, the 1950s landmark will be a ghost building. Peacock’s staff and the few remaining court denizens will be gone.
Court Operations Director Susan Cassady said case initiation and e-docketing staff have been working at the new location since last week, while the IT and clerk finance office are operating from the former county purchasing space across the street.
“They’re not ones that deal with the public,” she said.
Peacock praised Okaloosa County Public Works facilities staff, who prepared temporary office space for his department and renovated facilities for other services in a countywide relocation.
One constituency has been silent during preparations for demolition and building a new courthouse, Peacock said.
“Whenever we talk about tearing a building down, there’s always a group that says, ‘Oh no, you can’t tear this down. It’s historic,’” Peacock said. “There’s not a soul that’s said that here.”
In less than two weeks, the 1950s Okaloosa County courthouse will be unoccupied, and the countdown to its demolition will begin.
March 28-April 1: Clerk of Court equipment and furniture move across U.S. Highway 90 to former Okaloosa Memorial Hospital
April 1: Most of Clerk of Circuit Court staff relocate to former hospital
April 4-8: Transition of remaining services to new location
April 5, 6 or 7: All Clerk of Court functions operational in former hospital