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Supervisors propose Courthouse Plan B

Culver, Roberson propose alternative to new 43,660 square foot courthouse

No meeting date has yet been set, but two Westmoreland Supervisors are in the process of requesting a special meeting to deliberate a possible Plan B they hope would satisfy judicial concerns associated with the county’s present court accommodations.
A substantial portion of the county’s public has been up in arms about the three-story, 43,660 square feet judicial center suggested by consulting architect Rick Fink during a March 1 meeting of the Westmoreland County Board. During that session, Fink told the Supervisors that Judge Taliaferro had reviewed the proposed building’s preliminary

design and opined that it fulfilled the needs of the law enforcement community and the courts.
A vocal public has since responded with outrage to a facility they fear would cost $12,000,000 or more. The county has already begun purchasing an approximately 100-acre tract of land in Montross, where a new high school will be built. Projected costs of building the new high school haven’t been calculated because of difficulties associated with assessing values ten years down the road.
The county school division’s community of support had made it known they think the new high school should be a higher priority than the proposed judicial center, but the Westmoreland Supervisors maintain that the unhappy judges can compel the county to construct whatever kind of courthouse they request and failure to comply with those wishes could result in even higher building costs.
According to the architect’s March 1 proposal, a three-story structure would be built immediately adjacent to the county’s George D. English Building and would accommodate the courts, the court clerks and all court records, the Sheriff’s Office and the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Eight months ago Colonial Beach Councilman Larry Roberson knew his town was in dire need of a new middle school. Himself a retired educator, Roberson had served as a member of Town Council when the town’s high school was built. He immediately questioned the need to spend so much money to fulfill the security requirements the group of judges asked the county to address.
Supervisors Woody Hynson and Darryl Fisher readily embraced the architect’s proposal. Fisher drew from experience gleaned from hands-on participation in decisions associated with the Northern Neck Regional Jail construction project. The project’s grand scale had resulted in a self-supporting institution since it opened its doors in June 1995.
Hynson and Fisher both began their Board of Supervisors service in January 1992. Like Fisher, Hynson gave his complete support to the county’s decision to close the Westmoreland County Jail and become the biggest contributor to the regional jail proposal. In recent months Hynson has expressed concern that there will be dire consequences if the Board fails to appropriately comply with the safety issues cited by the unhappy group of judges.
Supervisor Russ Culver joined Roberson during the last eight months and visited other courthouses built by Northern Neck localities in the last few years. In each instance the facilities had been less costly than the structure proposed for Westmoreland on March 1. After months of reviewing possible alternatives, Roberson and Culver submitted a written proposal that offers preliminary details of a possible Plan B. If their assessments are correct, the option could save the county at least $7,000,000.
The single page document The Journal obtained this Monday begins with a five-point list of judicial security concerns that comprise the rationale for building a new county judicial center.
Point one involves problems associated with the English Building’s current layout. The judges don’t like having members of “the general public in the hallways and vicinity of the Courts when in session,” the document relates.
“No separation between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants,” is a second consideration, followed by the need for an additional “room or designated area for the attorneys to meet with their clients.” The judges have made it known they think the facility needs “a separate entrance for the prisoners instead of bringing them through the front door” and the Circuit Court Judge does not wish to be at risk of “being exposed to anyone coming through the front entrance” of that English Building Court.
Roberson and Culver’s Plan B purports to give the judges and the people what they want. Numerous county residents have maintained during these last eight months that the county government ought to move out of the English Building, relocating local government offices to nearby empty buildings in the Town of Montross. “Let the courts and the law enforcement community have the English Building to themselves,” these residents told the members of the Board.
The proposal Roberson and Culver submitted last week suggests that “County Administration, Land Use, Finance, Treasurer and the Commissioner of Revenue vacate the English Building. We can either build a new Administration Building or consider purchasing a suitable existing building,” the document explains.
“There is an existing building for sale in the area that  may be suitable to be utilized for the County Administration, but would probably need an external hydraulic elevator to be installed on the rear wall adjacent to the smaller elevator. The building that is available is a little over 11,000 square feet. The price is about $100 per square foot. A new administration of about 15,000 square feet (100 x 150) would cost approximately $2.5 million at $160 per square foot.
“County Records would remain in the old courthouse, allowing the second floor for additional storage.” That measure would result in a two million dollar savings. The Circuit Court Clerk would have an office in the English Building, as would the Sheriff’s Office and its Dispatch operations.
A portion of the Commissioner of Revenue’s office would be utilized “to bring prisoners through that side door. Additional holding cells would be there. The old Treasurer’s Office and Finance Office would be used for the Sheriff’s offices. The old Land Use Office could be used for Dispatch operations [and] the old Administration Office and conference room can be used as the locker room and meeting rooms,” the two Supervisors reasoned.
“As you open the Circuit Court door to the courtroom, a panel can be installed. Move the right pew from the back to the front. The panel restricts the direct view to the Judge from the front entrance.”
The document’s final consideration notes that “allowing $1 million for renovations and $2.5 million for a new Administration Building, the cost [of fulfilling the security needs of the 21st century courts] would be about $3.5 million dollars, which is a possible savings of $7 million or more,” Roberson and Culver conclude in the proposal’s final point.
The Supervisors will have their next meeting on November 14. A date for considering the Plan B proposal will likely be established at that time.

Betsy Ficklin

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