A whole new floor of courtrooms and offices will open in the York County Judicial Center by the summer of 2015, after the fifth floor of the building sat as an empty shell for more than a decade.

York County Commissioners on Wednesday approved $5.4 million in contracts for construction to finish the floor, which was left vacant to accommodate future growth when the center was built in 2004.

The project total, with furnishings and the necessary technology, is expected to reach $6.7 million. But that's more than $1.5 million less than commissioners thought they'd pay, said county facilities director Scott Cassel. Bids for the project came in well below the $8.1-$8.9 million estimates.

He said construction can start this May or June and is expected to take 10 or 11 months.

If the floor is finished for the summer of 2015, as it would be under the current timetable, it will meet the suggested build-out time specified several years ago when the county first started planning the judicial center construction, said President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh.

When complete, the fifth floor will house an additional eight courtrooms, seven judge's chambers and an additional elevator. There are currently four elevators in the judicial center.

After the unanimous vote Wednesday, Linebaugh commended commissioners for following through with the project and said the extra space will give the court system the room it needs to process more cases in the necessary, timely manner.

Linebaugh has been lobbying commissioners to complete the project, saying there's not enough space for the growing criminal and civil caseloads and some cases (particularly business-related civil matters) are taking too long to hear.

Commissioners had been considering just a partial build-out of the floor, but decided to move forward with the entire project because the cost of construction is advantageous, they said. The $6.7 million price tag doesn't include $200,000 in furnishings the board decided to put off until later, Cassel said.

Vice president commissioner Doug Hoke said financing costs are also low right now, so it makes sense to proceed with the project.

— Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.