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County opens $9M judicial center

The new Westmoreland County Judicial Center — a facility that has been in the planning stages for 25...

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Judicial project no longer out for bids

The Journal reported in October that the Westmoreland supervisors voted to put the new judicial center construction project out for bids. The supervisors voted this Monday to rescind that action due to the consulting architect’s inability to satisfy safety concerns raised by members of the judiciary.
According to County Administrator Norm Risavi, judges find need for a three-story judicial center with two elevators instead of the previously contemplated $12 million structure with two stories and a single elevator.

Further complicating matters is the perceived inability of the county’s elected Board of Supervisors members to communicate with the judges one-on-one and the judges’ inability to date to come together for a single meeting with Risavi and the consulting architect, Rick Funk.
Several years have passed since Circuit Court Judge Harry Taliaferro advised the Westmoreland supervisors in writing that court facilities installed in the English Building following a December 1990 fire no longer fulfilled security requirements. For two years or longer the county’s consulting architect reviewed scenarios and met with law enforcement and judiciary representatives to develop a viable remedy.
By June 2010 it had become apparent that the English Building could no longer be shared by the county government and the courts. Architect Funk proposed constructing a new building on property immediately adjacent to the English Building that would house the Sheriff’s Office and the courts. Records currently maintained in the county’s old Court House would be moved to the new facility.
The projected $12 million price tag stunned county government officials and the already troubled county taxpayers. The need to purchase property and construct a new county high school had been unfulfilled due to financial concerns and would be delayed for another decade or longer due to pressing security needs cited by members of the judiciary.
By October 2010 the Westmoreland supervisors and county administrator were concerned that an economic recovery would drive costs higher. An effort was made to send a project out for competitive bids in order to secure an optimal bottom line.
Taliaferro had told members of county government that other jurisdictions in the circuit had stepped up to the plate and taken appropriate action to fulfill the courts’ modern security requirements. Appropriate new court facilities had been constructed in every Northern Neck jurisdiction except Westmoreland County.
The supervisors were distressed to learn this Monday that the proposed $12 million structure wasn’t good enough. Other new Northern Neck court facilities had cost those jurisdictions considerably less than the bottom line Westmoreland County entertained.
It was District 2 Supervisor Russ Culver who introduced the topic during the board’s Jan. 10 deliberations.
“In October I thought we had voted to put the project out for bids,” Culver told board colleagues.
“I voted ‘aye’ to expedite the project because I figured the economic conditions at that time would help us get the best outcome in terms of project costs.
“What we directed as a board didn’t take place. Apparently the architect had another meeting with the representatives from the courts and the building was changed. It’s as if we asked for a Ford Fairlane 500 and they came back with a Lincoln Continental.”
For Risavi the experience has been more like a tennis match than a car deal that went wrong. Risavi told supervisors Monday that the board’s October action should not be construed as acceptance of a final architectural plan or an authorization for the project specifications to be the subject of a competitive bids solicitation.
According to Risavi’s understanding, the board reached a consensus in October that enabled architect Funk to engage in additional deliberations with judges and other members of the law enforcement community.
“We went back to the judges after the board’s October meeting,” Risavi explained. “They raised issues, saying the design wasn’t satisfactory. The concerns they cite were primarily about security.
“Unfortunately, we’ve never been able to get all the judges together at one time. There were considerations pointed out that were contradictory pertaining to the juvenile court and I considered it imperative to get everyone together.
“I have met with all but one of the judges. I’ve met with the clerks and the Sheriff’s Office staff. We’ve tried to resolve the issues and develop some methods for dealing with security concerns. Rick Funk will make the appropriate revisions and distribute the copies.
“It’s important to get the planning right. This building is probably going to be in service for well over a hundred years and we want to get it right the first time. It doesn’t make any sense to hurry to get something wrong.
“I feel like I’m in a tennis match,” Risavi then told the members of the board.
“I intend to schedule a work session with the architect and the members of the board that will deal with nothing but this. The judges have made it known that they prefer to work out the details without a representative from the Board of Supervisors.
“The problem has been the inability to get a final answer from the people who will be interacting in this building. Rick Funk is putting the layout in a formation that can be distributed to everyone so we can finalize the concept. Once we have a concept that’s acceptable to all the parties, the plan will have to be approved by the departments of Criminal Justice and Juvenile Services.”
Risavi additionally advised that the property immediately adjacent to the George D. English Building may not fulfill the security and other requirements of the courts. The county may have to purchase a new site, further driving up the costs.
No costs were mentioned during the Jan. 10 discussion, but the initial projections of the two-story structure’s 42,000 square foot interior had expanded to a three-story building with 50,000 square feet, driving cost projections beyond the previously suggested $12 million bottom line.
The supervisors rescinded the October 2010 action and agreed to engage in additional studies.
“We all agree that the need exists,” Board Chairman Woody Hynson said. “Right now I don’t believe we’ve scratched the surface enough to know the cost or size. Everyone has ideas. I haven’t made up my mind because I’m still listening.
“Our biggest charge is to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely. This is a work in progress. We’re gathering information. What and where we build is still open to debate.”

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