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Courthouse timetable, plan subject to dispute

South Boston News
A site design drawing shows the Main Street access to the renovated Courthouse. / August 10, 2017
Halifax County is on track for timely completion of the Courthouse renovation project, County Attorney Jeremy Carroll told members of the Board of Supervisors on Monday night.

Several members of the audience sharply disputed that view, however.

“We’re a long ways off from it being resolved,” Halifax businessman Detra Carr told supervisors, adding that it could take another three-four years before the upgrade to the dilapidated courthouse could begin.

The exchange underscored the ongoing debate over the Courthouse project, which is due to go to construction at the start of 2018 but hasn’t yet received a zoning permit from the Town of Halifax.

Carroll defended the work of the Board of Supervisors to negotiate a settlement with state judges who sued to compel the county to act to modernize the courthouse.

Supervisors did not engage in a public process to develop a plan for the Courthouse improvements because of the ongoing litigation with judges.

“Those negotiations necessarily occurred behind closed doors,” said Carroll. “It goes without saying that it was not in the best interests of the county or its taxpayers to disclose its negotiating or litigating posture to the other side,” said Carroll.

Noting that Virginia law allows governing officials to conduct closed-door discussions of legal matters, Carroll added, “If there are complaints about this process, I would suggest those complaints be directed to the General Assembly that set up the procedure.”

Carroll defended the plan that CJMW Architecture produced for the Courthouse expansion and renovation. He noted that CJMW’s architect, Emmett Lifsey, has worked with state historic preservation officials on the design of the updated building.

“At the end of the day the parties agreed on a nice courthouse that has modern amenities while preserving the building’s historical significance,” said Carroll. “It is a dignified courthouse appropriate for the community, as suggested in the Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines,” he said.

He also said the county is entitled to receive a zoning permit required for construction from the Town of Halifax, with county officials having met with town representatives six times in the year to review the project. The meetings took place over a span from June 2016 to April.

Furthermore, CJMW’s plans were reviewed by an advisory panel (made up of the former Clerk of the Circuit Court, two architects and two other local officials) that was appointed in December 2014. That panel issued a favorable report five months later on May 22, 2015. Panel members were advised that their work was completed at that time and the panel was dissolved.

The Board of Supervisors also held a public hearing on the Courthouse plans in January 2016. After additional modifications were made to the schematic design, the plan was finalized on April 14, 2016 and a consent order ending litigation with judges was entered in court on July 5, 2016.

That consent order sets a timetable for the project that is supposed to lead to actual construction in January 2018 and final completion by January 2020.

Critics of the county’s plans expressed skepticism that the construction timetable would hold up.

Carr pointed to comments made during the meeting by Halifax Zoning Administrator and Town Manager Carl Espy and Barbara Bass, Historical Society president, that highlighted questions and concerns that must be addressed before the project can begin. Carr also noted that no mention was made of the future of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s building, which he considers to be a part of the Courthouse Complex.

In her remarks, Bass complained the Historical Society had not been included in a stakeholders meeting on the Courthouse despite the special nature of the Courthouse, built in the early 19th century by Dabney Cosby, a contemporary and possibly a colleague of Thomas Jefferson.

“The one thing the Virginia Supreme Court encourages is having meeting with civic organizations and we were not invited,” said Bass.

She also expressed concern that a new addition to the courthouse, replacing the existing annex, which extend about 12 feet further out from where the old jail stood. Bass said she believes it will actually come out 24 feet, not 12 feet, thus swallowing up a large part of the Courthouse green.

Another of her concerns deals with the location of handicapped parking spaces, as well as where to store historic record books in the courthouse. She worried that someone would have to climb a ladder to access those records if the books are stored on top of each other.

Espy, speaking on behalf of the Town of Halifax, raised another set of issues: the current design will eliminate ten parking spaces, one an ADA parking spot, along Edmunds Boulevard behind the courthouse project. The expansion will necessitate 21 additional parking spaces to serve the courthouse clients, which means there’s a deficit of 31 spaces.

Espy is also concerned about the traffic pattern which could be hazardous for pedestrians along Edmunds Boulevard.

Emmett Lifsey, the project architect, addressed another aspect of the Courthouse design that had drawn some complaints: the addition of a glassed-in corridor on the side of the historic building to create a separate access for members of the public using the building.

Lifsey said a 12 foot band in front of the building is needed to provide a common elevator and stairwell for the entire structure, along with additional waiting areas for the courtrooms. The glass corridor is necessary, he explained, to meet modern security standards for use of the historic courtroom, he explained.

Carroll said after hearing from stakeholders the interior design has been revised somewhat but no exterior design has been changed materially.

He said the County intends to comply with Halifax’s zoning ordinance and other applicable laws not contained in the zoning ordinance, such as the town’s Outdoor Lighting Control ordinance, but ancillary issues do not justify delaying or denying the issuance of the zoning permit.

Board Chairman Dennis Witt said he felt his board was close to the end game, but his board is open to working with the Town of Halifax, noting that some had accused the county of not having worked with the town. And he noted that while some minor changes may be made, starting over is not something that is going to happen.

“What is the impact on the Town of Halifax?” Witt asked. “Tell us so we can address it together.”

Vice Chairman J. T. Davis pointed out that with the stock market at a record high and unemployment at a low point, the wait could mean higher construction costs if interest rates go up. “We need to move this ball forward as quickly as possible,” Davis said. “Time is money.”

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These people get it. You all are spending over $17 million dollars on a courthouse renovation and considering a $44 million dollar new high school in an economically depressed county where over half of the households can't afford basic necessities.

You're right JT. Time is money and you all are gonna cost the taxpayers of this county a lot of it. So how about you quit wasting time and go ahead and retire.


Your argument for these debts is circular in nature and reminiscent of this genius professor from Princeton.
Spending your way to wealth is not logical. But I know where you can find a job where you'll fit in.


How about this one. The taxpayers should be happy with 51 courthouse chairs purchased for $10,200 since the only alternative would be to spend $100,000 for 51 new chairs.

"Judge White went to the General Assembly sale, and she and Stephanie (Jackson) found 51 chairs to go with the other chairs.

“They purchased them for $10,200…51 new chairs cost $2,156 apiece, and I would argue we saved $100,000 by cooperation between Judge White and staff.”
While spending $200 per chair may be a good deal considering there may be a few among that 51% with furniture making skills, $2,156 per chair is not the only alternative unless you’re buying shiatsu massage chairs for the courthouse.


All these people are correct, $2000 for a chair, that is crazy?!?!!
All the old people and any of the BOS candidates, that support this kind of spending should be run out on a rail. These people should be ashamed of themselves!

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