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Risavi pitches new judicial center concept

Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors Chairman Woody Hynson kept the promise he made to citizens. When the supervisors met on Monday, an extra hour was added at the end of the meeting for the purpose of explaining the need to build a new judicial center.
Accompanied by Rick Funk, the architect who authored Westmoreland’s space needs assessment and developed draft plans for an $11 million judicial complex on the English Building property, County Administrator Norm Risavi talked about the past and made it clear that the project has been in the works for many, many years.

“Back in 1997 or 1998 the Board of Supervisors asked staff to look at possibilities in the next eight to 10 years that would address the limitations of the county’s existing buildings,” Risavi said.
“In 1993 I came on board and toured the schools that were in disrepair. We spent $5 (million) or $6 million on upgrades” to county schools and converted A.T. Johnson middle school to its current use for offices, recreation activities and museum.
Risavi related that rent collected from agencies located in the A.T. Johnson complex has provided for up to 93 percent of that renovation project’s approximate $2.7 million cost.
The county administrator addressed the substandard condition of the building that houses the Sheriff’s Office and delivered a proposal that would move the sheriff into the English Building with the county government. Such an accommodation, he explained, would reduce the cost of the judicial center that would be built on a vacant portion of the English Building property.
Risavi revealed a $1 million nest egg that can be used to help finance the project. Grants would offset other construction costs and real estate tax rates would only have to jump three cents per $100 values to support the 40-year debt obligation.
The county administrator presented arguments for going forward immediately. Economic conditions, he advised, bring down construction costs. The project could go out for contractor bids later this year, locking in favorable contract prices before the economy rebounds.
Supervisor Russ Culver quickly pointed out that the Sept. 13 discussion was but the first of what he hoped would be many work sessions on the subject. Culver still wanted to look for other options.
Supervisor Larry Roberson kept bringing up the Hutt law office building, but that consideration failed to interest other members of the Board.
Culver noted the $3.7 million cost of Lancaster County’s new judicial center. If Westmoreland had a bigger case load, he hoped the design could be expanded to accommodate local needs at very little additional cost. Culver made it clear that he wanted to entertain alternatives to the architect’s previously noted $11 million project.
Along the way questions were raised about the fate of the county’s old courthouse. Risavi explained that the County Museum and Northern Neck Historical Society previously expressed “interest in using the old courthouse.”
The supervisors expect to visit new judicial complexes other counties have completed on the Northern Neck.

Betsy Ficklin

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