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Panel rejects domeless courthouse

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By M.C. MOEWE

The Times-Union

The troubled Duval County courthouse project hit another ripple Thursday when a city panel refused to give its approval to a new money-saving design that leaves the structure domeless.

An appeal can be made to the Downtown Development Authority, which has the power to reverse it. But several members of the agency's Design Review Committee said they doubted their decision would stand.

"The roof looks like it's been lopped off," said Kelly Elmore, a committee member. "This is our only chance to say we want to add the dome back. We should say that."

Al Battle, the only member who voted against the motion to not accept the new design, said he felt that the decision had been resolved.

"I work for the mayor and I'm agreeing with him," Battle said.

Chris Boruch, project manger for The Better Jacksonville Plan, said if the decision stood, it would be appealed.

"Everybody had to give something," he told the committee.

Cutting the 80-foot-diameter dome could save the project up to $2.5 million, officials said.

Many city leaders and outspoken taxpayers have seen the dome as the glaring example of the problems with the Duval County Courthouse, which was supposed to cost $190 million when voters approved the Better Jacksonville Plan with a half-cent sales tax increase in 2000.

The budget has been increased twice already to $232 million and Mayor John Peyton this week introduced plans to the City Council to raise it again to $268 million, citing higher construction costs and bad information from consultants who have since been fired.

"The mayor has been clear and unambiguous that the new courthouse will be functional, it will meet the needs of the future, but it will not be grand and it will not have a dome," said Susan Wiles, a top Peyton aide.

The council could vote on the budget proposal as early as next month.

Times-Union writer Matt Galnor contributed to this report.

mary.moewejacksonville.com, (904) 359-4689

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stor..._16481163.shtml.

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The published figures for the cost of the dome that I have seen are like 1.7 and 2.5 million. As a percentage of the total cost, that is minor (about 1%). Go ahead and put it on. This buidling will be around for 100 years at least. For a meager 1%, build something we can be proud of.

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Just get the project completed. Come on, the dome really looks nice but I agree, its time to get the ball rolling. Construction needs to begin immediately.

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