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Costs pile up as renovation goes forward

South Boston News
Chain link fence went up around the courthouse Monday morning. / June 07, 2018
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors vented freely Monday night about being asked to pay additional fees to the architectural firm handling the courthouse renovations, with supervisors aiming their ire at County Administrator Jim Halasz, the Town of Halifax and the architects themselves.

Halasz presented bills from CJMW Architecture totaling $89,000 to the supervisors at their monthly meeting Monday in Halifax. All of the requests are related to recent tweaks in the renovation plan for the historic courthouse and temporary replacement facilities. Four of the five updates, costing a sum total of $53,300, were approved by supervisors without controversy.

But a fifth request — for $35,700 — drew a raft of questions and complaints, and supervisors withheld payment to allow more time to review the particulars. CJMW Architecture says the bill is related to work it did to address concerns by the Town of Halifax about the impact of the courthouse expansion on the downtown district. Supervisors expressed annoyance over the idea of paying more money to the firm.

“We paid a million dollars already, and we should get our money’s worth,” said William Bryant Claiborne.

According to CJMW, the $35,700 bill covers the firm’s time and work in meeting with Town of Halifax officials, redesigning the plan for street parking around the courthouse, and taking part in a traffic study of the downtown area. In a letter to the county, CJMW architect Emmett Lifsey noted company representatives met with Halifax Town Manager Carl Espy on a dozen occasions to discuss revisions to the courthouse site design.

“In a project of this scope, a reasonable expectation would have been four to six meetings,” Lifsey wrote.

ED-1 Supervisor J.T. Davis wondered aloud if the Town “should absorb some of the cost” after its leaders pressed for changes, including more parking, especially for handicapped motorists, to address what town officials believed was an inadequate number of spaces.

Davis blamed Town officials for not working well with their county counterparts, but Town Manager Espy noted Tuesday that Halifax tried to engage county officials as far back as 2016 with its concerns.

“[T]he Town of Halifax was encouraging design review with any potential modifications at an earlier stage” than turned out to be the case, Espy stated in an e-mail, “which would have potentially saved the county taxpayers on higher architectural fees incurred in 2017 and 2018.”

CJMW also came in for criticism from board members. One complaint pertained to a mistake in the design of the temporary courthouse annex at the Bethune Complex: its holding areas for adult and juvenile offenders were placed too close together, according to supervisors. Members also wondered how many meetings with architects and consultants had been factored into the original contract with CJMW, suggesting the county should be getting a better deal for the money it has already paid to the firm.

Turning to Halasz, supervisors faulted him for failing to maintain adequate communications between the county and the Town, and the county administration also shared a portion of the blame for the additional bills submitted by the architects.

“We need to know when the meter is running with CJMW,” said chairman Dennis Witt.

The disconnect between the county and the town was evident Monday morning when fencing went up around the courthouse, causing some amount of confusion downtown.

A subcontractor carrying fencing to close off Edmunds Street arrived on time, but a second subcontractor responsible for placing VDOT signage to explain traffic pattern changes did not arrive on schedule.

“One contractor showed up 40 minutes late,” Halasz said.

Regardless, the fencing team got to work, closing off access to the courthouse work site and halting traffic on Edmunds Street for the day.

While supervisors say they will investigate the $35,700 in bills from CJMW to address the Town of Halifax’s concerns, the other supplemental requests were authorized for payment.

These design changes address concerns over inmate safety, architectural elements in the original building that were uncovered during the renovation, and a request by Circuit Court Judge Kim White that the courthouse entrance be designed with a more stately appearance than the original, accepted proposal.

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Seems to me BOS is straining at a gnat while swallowing the camel!!


Supervisor J.T. Davis you should look inward to your arrogant self serving Counry Administrator who ignored and has continued to ignore both the Town of Halifax and the Halifax County Historical Society requests to assist and be involved in this project. It is paramount that the Code of Virginia and the Town of Halifax be adhered to as far as facility parking, pedestrian, and handicap accessibility is concerned. Mr. Halasz lacks the knowledge and experience to handle such a project as the Courthouse renovation. Cost overruns at the Bethune annex and now the Courthouse itself is proof of this inadequacy. Time to put someone else in charge before more tax dollars are in wasted. We already know he has largely ignored the needs of the Commonwealth Attorneys office and waiting to bid on those needed improvements seperately is foolhardy.


This is the biggest boondoggle in Halifax County since the building of the jail. The BOS at that time PROMISED that as soon as the jail was paid for the decal tax was gone. This courthouse will not bring 1 cent back to the taxpayers of this county. This illegal taxation is par for the coarse here. But I'm afraid we ain"t seen nothin yet with the unnecessary building of a school and football field. Just like the man said this is a s...hole of a place.

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