Budget, site needed for courthouse project

Coalfield Progress – November 16, 2011

by MIRANDA McCOY • Staff Writer

CLINTWOOD — Plans for a new facility to house the county’s court system won’t move much further until the Board of Supervisors develops a budget and selects a site, architects told the board last week. Supervisors and a courthouse renovation committee met Thursday to hear a presentation from Thompson and Litton representatives about the proposed project. T&L was hired by the county several years ago to perform a study regarding expansion of the courthouse complex.

The county, directed by the court system, must develop a plan that will address safety concerns and other deficiencies at the existing courthouse, such as inadequate space and parking.

Supervisors decided in September to pursue a two-facility option to address the issues. A new building will likely house court-related services, and the existing courthouse will probably be renovated and continue to house other county offices.

The Board of Supervisors has less than seven months before mandated schematic drawings are due to be complete. The purpose of the Nov. 10 meeting was for the board and committee to further discuss project budget, scope and site selection.

The group also discussed opinions and concerns regarding a recent visit by some members to an Appomattox court facility constructed in 2004. Board of Supervisors chairman Roger Stanley, Willis District, stated, “We heard that they (Appomattox) had built a courthouse that served a county about our size for only $3.6 million. That sounded unbelievable from what we were looking at. “I was impressed,” said Stanley of the Appomattox facility. “The judge seemed to be impressed too,” he added, referring to Judge Henry Vanover.

Thompson and Litton representatives agreed that the judge’s opinion was of utmost importance, since it is his court order that must be fulfilled. Eric Price, courthouse renovation committee chair, plans to schedule a meeting with Judge Vanover, which several committee and board members will attend.

Topics to be discussed include what size the facility must be to meet court system needs, along with what services will be necessary to meet the Virginia courthouse guidelines.

Until the board provides the architects with more details, the project will not move much further, according to architect William A. Thompson III with Thompson and Litton.

“Back in May 2008 when we were hired and challenged to do this study and look at the various elements of spaces for the courthouse,” added T&L representative Carl Gutschow, “we were also challenged to look at … not just space, but the mechanical systems, the electricial systems, the structural systems.” He added that the board requested a design that was “state of the art.”

COST

Thompson said cost of the facility will depend greatly on the quality, construction site and design choices. Using the Appomattox courthouse as an example, Thompson said to build a copy of that facility today would be about $4.8 million.

Thompson also mentioned that a “bid war” took place with that project, allowing the cost to come in underneath budget. Thompson noted that early design discussions for the Dickenson County courthouse project were for a building structurally similar to the current courthouse, but designed to today’s standards.

But can such a project be made cost effective if the board desires the group wondered. Certainly, Thompson said.

“This is going to be your building, it’s certainly not ours. We can design this building to exactly what you are looking for: whatever quality standard, whatever area, that’s what the building will be,” he added. The question that now lies before the board, however, is:  What are we looking for?

WHAT NEXT

County attorney Clarence “Bud” Phillips asked directly of the architects: What type of direction do you need from the board in order to proceed? Thompson answered that building quality and size are the next decisions to be made.

Gutschow added that site is also important and needs to be considered. With differences in topography, utilities and foundations, site plays an important role in cost, he explained.

Kenady District Supervisor Shelbie Willis pointed out that the board has yet to vote on what services will be offered at the new facility — be it constitutional officers or the judicial system.  Stanley responded that while a vote has not yet taken place, it seemed to be the consensus of the board that the judicial system will be housed in the new facility.  Stanley added that service acquisition has also not yet been discussed. He noted that the board must soon begin accepting bids for the design services needed, Budget, site needed for courthouse project.  Since Thompson and Litton were initially hired to only perform a study. Phillips recommend that four issues be discussed at the committee’s next meeting. 

First, the board must revisit the project timeline. Second, the board will take into consideration the report from Judge Vanover “as to what he believes are the essential services and square footage.”

Third, the board must decide and vote on what offices will be housed at the second facility. And finally, the board must discuss the procurement of design services.  Once those decisions are made, the project can hopefully move forward, Phillips noted.