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Agency head raps plan for Courthouse work / May 11, 2017

Town of Halifax officials who have complained about being left in the dark on the future of the Courthouse presented some support for their position this week: a letter from the state’s director of historic resources that cites shortcomings with the county’s renovation plans.

Julie V. Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote an April 26, letter to Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy that raises a number of issues with the county’s planned $18 million upgrade of the historic courthouse, which is in a state of disrepair.

Espy shared the letter with Council members and the public at the monthly meeting of Council Tuesday night in Halifax.

Among the points raised in her letter, Langan observed that the courthouse site “has historically been and remains to be of inadequate size to accommodate the amount of new construction proposed. The fact that a large addition currently exists does not mean that such a large footprint is desirable or compatible.

“The impact of the proposed addition adversely impacts the setting of the historic courthouse,” wrote Langan.

However, she also noted that the Department of Historic Resources has no formal review role over the renovation and expansion of the courthouse since no federal funding or federal or state rehabilitation tax credits are to be used to pay for the work.

Nevertheless, “DHR continues to take an interest in this project given its potential impacts to the historically and architecturally significant Halifax County Courthouse,” she wrote.

Two Council members, Jack Dunavant and Bill Confroy, renewed their complaints Tuesday night over the way the Halifax County Board of Supervisors has moved forward with the Courthouse Project.

“I feel that we are being dictated to by the Board of Supervisors, and I don’t like being dictated to,” said Dunavant.

He called on county officials to present to the public a Powerpoint presentation on the physical changes that would be made to the early 19th century-era courthouse structure.

Confroy also rapped county officials for lack of transparency in the planning and negotiation process. He noted that a citizen advisory committee was appointed back in 2014 to oversee the Courthouse Project, but after several meetings the committee was disbanded.

Also, Confroy said, no one was able to review where the project was headed prior to the public unveiling of schematic plans in 2016.

Langan, who penned her letter in response to a request for input by Espy, said that DHR has not reviewed anything more recent than schematic drawings dated April 2016. Since then, the Board of Supervisors has authorized a study of changes to the courthouse grounds and nearby streetscape in downtown Halifax.

Langan wrote that in her view, “[t]he size and scale of the new addition overwhelms the historic courthouse.” The addition would replace the existing Annex building that houses General District Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. The new structure will provide room for both courts along with a second courtroom for Halifax County Circuit Court.

Langan also suggested that the project plans be amended to leave “less physical connection” between the historic Courthouse and the new building replacing the Annex, which was constructed in the 1960s.

“The new addition wraps and envelopes” the courthouse, and greater separation “is recommended in order to minimize impact to the existing building fabric,” she wrote.

She also criticized several proposed architectural features as “not particularly compatible with the existing fabric,” citing three main offenders:

» a balustrade built on top of the new public entry in the new building “is more typically found in residential design than civic, and suggests false historicism;”

» Arched openings on the same vestibule are also architecturally incompatible;

» a proposed glass corridor that would be built along the outside wall of the existing courthouse would “present a contemporary, but not necessarily compatible appearance.” If the county goes forward with the glass corridor, Langan urged the use of clear, not tinted, glass “so that the historic brick exterior walls remain visible” from the outside.

The glass corridor is a key part of the design to cordon off the flow of traffic among separate groups: court staff, jail inmates and criminal defendants who are summoned to court, and members of the public who need to access court facilities or clerks’ offices.

Langan also questioned whether county officials have given adequate consideration to proposed changes in the Clerk of Court office, which would no longer be accessible from the Courthouse front door entrance.

“The impact of any connection or addition that would alter the appearance of the clerk’s office and/or its relationship to the courthouse should also be carefully considered,” she wrote.

Rounding out her list of concerns are two potential landscaping issues: the removal of the brick wall around the courthouse grounds, and tree removal, which she said should be “handled with extreme caution.” Removing the brick wall and replacing it with precast concrete is “potentially falsely historical,” stated Langan.

She offered to participate in any future meetings to discuss project plans and offered to visit town if needed: “[T]he historical significance of the Halifax County Court House is well-documented and widely-known,” she wrote.

Town of Halifax officials are reviewing renovation plans for the Courthouse as part of the county’s application for a zoning permit. The town must issue the permit before work can proceed.

The Courthouse is listed on both the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places and represents the centerpiece of the Town of Halifax Court House Historic District. The building was designed by Dabney Cosby, who is said to have collaborated with Thomas Jefferson on the building of the University of Virginia, although the exact nature of their work together is unknown.

In other business Tuesday night:

Town Council held the first reading of the town’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget, which totals $1,025,540. That sum is some $250,488 under the budget for the current fiscal year, which runs out June 30. The new fiscal year begins July 1 and extends through June 30, 2018.

The proposed budget has no tax or fee increases and is expected to be finalized during Council’s regular June monthly meeting.

Also, Council members authorized Espy to draft a resolution asking VDOT to include funding for a turning radius improvement at the intersection of Main Street and Mountain Road near the War Memorial.

The Town has applied for VDOT’s Smart Scale funding to carry out the project.

Council also confirmed both Gray Ramsey and Kathy Bane for new four year terms on the Halifax County Service Authority board, and members also ratified a proclamation calling for this week to be recognized as National Small Business Week.

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And so the cost over runs begin without a stone turned. The $19 mil courthouse will exceed that estimate and will be nearer to $25 mil when all is said an done.
If the old bldg meant so much to the community why did you allow it to deteriorate to it's present condition??
Give it to those who wish to keep it and build the new courthouse next to the private for profit prison system. After all if we can't incentivize businesses we can just put more people in prison to raise revenues for the State.


Hupps Mill Plaza is for sale. Opening price $1.5 million with plenty of square footage and parking.

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