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Toombs County Commissioner Chairman David Sikes.
The artistic touch to the courthouse dome was Sikes’ idea. He said he was inspired to celebrate the vegetable for which Vidalia and Toombs County are known worldwide when he and his wife made a trip to Italy for a cooking tour. While in Florence, the chef with whom they were cooking asked the Sikeses where they live. “When we said Vidalia, Georgia, the chef immediately recognized our hometown for its famous onion,” Sikes recalled.
Sikes said the Commission had the option of going with the standard point on the top of the dome, but it would have looked like a courthouse dome almost anywhere in the United States. “How do you stand out?’ he asked, adding, “I thought, why don’t we embrace what we globally known for—the Vidalia Onion?”
Sikes emphasized, “What makes us unique is our soil, which produces a unique onion.” He said the renowned local onion grower R.T. Stanley once told him that the Vidalia onion is one of the only trademarked vegetables in the U.S. Only onions grown within a defined radius outside of Vidalia can be labeled Vidalia Onions. Another claim to fame is the onion’s status as the state vegetable.
Sikes envisions the unique dome being a landmark which will draw visitors to the area and dovetail into retail commerce for the area as these visitors shop, eat, buy gas, and take in other sites in the area.
The choice made by Sikes has not been without some controversy. “We all have different options. If people are upset by the decision — and I am confused by that — they can put it on me.” Sikes said some folks might think taxpayers’ money should not be used to fund the $6,000 topper, but he said something had to go atop the dome. “Instead of typical, let’s make this a landmark.”
He has no regrets whatsoever about the end results and praises the work of local artist Ruth English, who also designed the distinctive Vidalia onion that adorns the water fountain at Ronnie A. Dixon City Park downtown. Advanced Fabrications of Vidalia executed English’s design. “We are glad that we were able to use a local artist and company to build the dome topper,” Sikes pointed out.
English said the project is the largest commission she has ever accomplished. She used the template from the city fountain creation, but enlarged it — massively. “We used two 5 feet X 10 feet pieces of stainless steel — one for the round section and the other for the petals, which I cut with the plasma equipment, then shaped and welded,” English said. The project was made up of 16 pieces that were attached to a 5-footwide pedestal reinforced by rods. “It had to be solid. We did not want to have to go back up there and reweld,” English said of the topper which sits about 100 feet in the air.
The onion topper created by English is her third such creation. From concept to finish, the project required two weeks to complete.
“The Vidalia Onion dome separates us from the rest of Georgia’s 159 counties,” commented Toombs County Manager John Jones. “It is one of a kind.”
Jones said the new courthouse is in its drying in and sealing up stage. “We are currently on schedule to have the building completed in January 2023 and could start moving in then,” he said. “We expect to be substantially complete no later than August 2023 — this includes the demo of the existing courthouse and completion of the parking plaza east of the new courthouse.”
TQ Constructors of Metter is the general contractor in charge of the construction of the $34 million, 50,000-squarefoot project. The courthouse is being funded by a Special Local Option Sales Tax and the County’s general fund. The project also includes the renovation of the Toombs County Detention Center and the addition of 70 additional beds and 40 more cells. A corridor will connect the Courthouse and Detention Center.
The current courthouse was erected in 1964, but has become obsolete for the growing community’s needs. The new courthouse is the fourth such structure to be built in Toombs County. The first courthouse was built in 1906 and was destroyed by fire.