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Supervisors accept Courthouse Square redevelopment proposal

Montross is Westmoreland’s county seat and the town is in the midst of a redevelopment initiative.

At a meeting this Monday the Westmoreland Supervisors accepted a report delivered by the county’s Courthouse Square Revitalization Committee establishing the county’s role in the town’s refurbishment.

Early this year each Westmoreland supervisor appointed a private citizen to serve on the Revitalization Committee. Sharon Bedford, Iris Lane, Christiane Sanford, Kathy Waltermire and Gary Mitchell worked with County Planning Director Robert Fink to complete the set of recommendations that reflect consideration of a wide range of ways the county’s buildings might be used.

Committee deliberations included consideration of ongoing plans to construct a new judicial center that would house the Westmoreland

Sheriff’s Office and Circuit Court records. The old courthouse and Sheriff’s Office buildings would be vacant.

According to the proposal, the registrar would remain in the building previously used as a bank and newspaper office. An old jail currently used as a storage shed would be refurbished as a historic site and the County Museum would continue to be used to facilitate local tourism initiatives.

“The new [judicial center] would open up space in that area,” Fink acknowledged when he briefed the members of the board. “The old courthouse could be used by Northern Neck Historical Society for its collection of books and reference materials. The society and the museum could collaborate.”

Research gathered by the committee indicates that the old courthouse was “originally built around 1820” and is “a central focal point.”

“This is the most significant building on the square, based on location, size, architectural design, and historic relevance,” the document relates. “Another courthouse building was first located in the same proximity around 1684.”

According to the committee, the “most popular” suggestion for the old courthouse’s future use came from Northern Neck Historical Society.
The ground floor would be used by the society and county nuseum and the upstairs would house administrative offices.

“The largest room on the upper floor should be reserved as a community meeting space under the management of the museum,” according to the June 2011 report.

The report notes that the most popular proposal for the Sheriff’s Office is “to use the space as a venue for artisans similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria,” but on a smaller scale. The Northern Neck Historical Society would be invited to assume a lead role in restoration of the jail whose reported construction date was 1889.

Converting the Sheriff’s Office into an artisans’ center wasn’t the only future use considered for that building. It has been suggested that the building be used to house an urgent care medical facility.

A ravine behind the buildings the Westmoreland Sheriff and registrar now occupy might once again become a park where citizens can gather to enjoy the great outdoors.

The report states that prior to World War II, “the WPA worked on the ravine and made it into a public park. During the war it fell into disuse and became overgrown.”

“In the ravine is the historic Minor’s spring, which provided water for the court in colonial times and was later used for recreational purposes,” the report additionally relates.

“The committee suggests that the county and the town consider reclaiming the ravine for park and public green space. The topography of the land would lend itself to building an amphitheater for cultural/musical events, historic presentations, theater and the like.”

The committee’s findings include consideration of the creation of an historic district with Old Courthouse Square as the district’s centerpiece.
“The county buildings in the courthouse square area are not listed with federal or state registries as historic buildings,” the document relates.
“Nor is the area part of a designated historic district. The Town of Montross Downtown Revitalization Plan examined creating a historic district in the downtown area and suggests that such a district or building registration could be of benefit.”

The report suggests that “if the buildings [in the Courthouse Square] remain publicly owned, there may still be some financial benefit to the county in listing the buildings individually or including them in a historic district.

“It is possible for the county to go into a partnership to improve the buildings which could capitalize on the tax credits. Even if the county chooses not to pursue this possibility, it should support the town, should the town decide to create a historic district or to encourage the listing of individual properties as part of their downtown revitalization program,” the official document explains.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Woody Hynson thanked the committee members for their service.

“This is an ongoing project because we don’t know how the buildings will be used or what will be built in the future,” Hynson said. “We’re glad to have the insight the committee delivered in this report. It will be used as a resource document in the future.”

District 2 Supervisor Russ Culver weighed in with a suggestion that the region’s recent Heritage Area designation be pursued as a means of obtaining funding for a future project’s preservation and redevelopment initiatives.

County Administrator Norm Risavi applauded the report’s suggestion that the Historical Society and County Museum share to old courthouse space.

The research materials would become available in a single location and on Monday Risavi told the supervisors that his office routinely receives calls from individuals “from all over the world” whose research activities occasion the need to access documents collected by the society and museum. A one-stop research facility would be a valuable component of any economic development initiative, the administrator reasoned.

Betsy Ficklin

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