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Blair wins contract for Halifax County courthouse work

SoVaNow.com / January 11, 2018


Casting aside objections from the Town of Halifax and a number of speakers Monday night, Halifax County supervisors approved a low bid of $14,824,000 from Blair Construction for completion of the courthouse renovation project.

The motion carried by a 7-1 margin, with ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon casting the lone dissenting vote.

The board’s approval came after Halifax Town Manager and Zoning Administrator Carl Espy asked that the bid award be delayed by 30 days. Espy requested the pause while waiting for VDOT to approve a change in the traffic pattern on Edmunds Boulevard, which is proposed to being converted to a one-way street behind the courthouse.

ED-1 supervisor J. T. Davis replied that he did not believe the change in the traffic pattern would substantially affect the courthouse construction plan or Blairs’ bid. Board chairman Dennis Witt urged fellow supervisors to go forward and accept the bid for similar reasons: further consideration “could be an endless endeavor.”

Witt pointed out that supervisors have been working on the courthouse restoration for seven years, and the design in place will preserve the “beautiful and iconic” 175-year old building.

Espy argued, however, that with one-way flow of traffic on Edmunds Boulevard, the county has had to change its plans for parking spaces behind the courthouse, especially ADA-compliant handicapped parking. The amended parking spots and the proposed traffic change are not covered in the zoning permit that the Town of Halifax has issued for the construction project.

Espy asked for a 30-day delay before the bid was finalized, a step he said would not interfere with the timetable for completion of the project. He also asked for an opportunity for town and county officials as well as property owners to hold a meeting to discuss the change in the traffic change and parking plans.

Instead, supervisors moved ahead and approved the bid by Blair, one of two that came back on the project. The Gretna contractor was selected over J.E. Burton Construction, which submitted a bid of $15,941,395.

County Administrator Jim Halasz recommended Blair’s bid, noting the company is completing a similar courthouse renovation project in Charlotte County. There, Blair is finishing up the construction of a new courthouse, behind the historic building that was designed by Thomas Jefferson and built in the early 1800s.

Blair is expected to begin work on Halifax’s courthouse by February.

Witt noted that Blair’s bid for the Halifax project is $150 less per square foot than the cost of Charlotte County’s courthouse. Witt acknowledged there will be issues as the project moves forward, “but they will be resolved.”

Witt alluded to one unresolved issue — what to do about the terrible condition of the Commonwealth Attorney’s building, which stands at the courthouse square next to the historic main building.

Witt indicated the board would soon make a decision about what to do about the prosecutor’s building. Supervisors are looking at four options presented by Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracey Quackenbush Martin for renovation or construction of a new building.

Supervisors did agree to hold off asking VDOT for the traffic review until a meeting can be scheduled with Edmunds Boulevard businesses, Halifax officials and other businesses that may be affected by changing patterns. Espy said the Town will work to accommodate the County’s schedule in setting the meeting.

Renewing familiar criticisms of the courthouse plan, Barbara Bass, president of the county historical society, offered what she said was her “final eulogy” for the soon-to-be renovated and expanded courthouse.

“Our community has one of the few remaining historic courthouse squares left in the Commonwealth of Virginia. No longer will I be able to walk through the front historic entrance that has always led me back into 180 years of history,” said Bass, reading from a statement. “I will miss the trees, though not necessarily historic, but are majestic in appearance and compliment the Square. The distraction of a glass corridor and railing next to the historic structure will surely distract from its elegance.

“I regret that the community is losing the essence of preservation of a great historic courthouse square.”

Cheryl Watts also criticized supervisors, arguing they were unfair to Halifax Town officials who, rather than holding up the process, only had asked for greater transparency.

In Charlotte County, construction at the courthouse was postponed until all stakeholders in the Charlotte County facility were satisfied with the final plan, she pointedly noted.

In a gesture of his own, Espy presented Witt with an autographed copy of the book, “Virginia’s Historic Courthouses,” written by John O. and Margaret T. Peters and signed by them for the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and the People of Halifax. The couple served as panelists and keynote speakers during the 2016 Virginia Historic Courthouse Symposium. The book features 140 photographs of Virginia’s courthouses — including Halifax’s — and offers a wealth of social and architectural history and notable legal proceedings that have taken place in the state’s courthouses.



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