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Halifax County supervisors ante up $282K more for courthouse project change orders / August 06, 2020

Halifax County supervisors grudgingly agreed to pay for $282,219 for construction change orders to the county courthouse, but not before members of the board blasted the general contractor and architectural firm in charge of the renovation project.

“There are people in this county who are tired every month reading about change orders” to the courthouse, said ED-4 supervisor Ronnie Duffey, one of three members to vote against the expenditure.

The Board of Supervisors approved the request 5-3, with Duffey, Stanley Brandon and William Bryant Claiborne opposing the request. Board Chairman Hubert Pannell also criticized the expenditure, but joined Vice Chair Garland Ricketts, Jeff Francisco, Dean Throckmorton and Calvin “Ricky” Short in the majority.

Francisco, who heads the board’s courthouse committee, explained that the change orders arose with requests by judges, prosecutors and the clerk’s office to modify aspects of the courthouse design. Changes also have been made as problems have surfaced at the site, such as earthwork on Edmunds Boulevard that must be ripped out and replaced.

County Administrator Scott Simpson explained that he was able to work down the initial spending request of more than $300,000 through negotiations and by eliminating a passage door to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Most of the changes “are end-user adjustments, and we gain value in the building based on that.”

Weighing on the vote was the prospect of stalling progress at the courthouse if the full board rejected the request. That did not keep Brandon from laying into Blair Construction, the general contractor, and CJMW, the design architect.

“It was a bad cut deal” on the courthouse, “and I’m tired of the same thing” happening with change orders, said Brandon. He warned fellow members that by approving the change orders, “Guess what — they’ll be back.

“Where’s the accountability?” Brandon asked.

Claiborne agreed that “if we don’t make them accountable, we’re just blowing hot air.”

The additional outlay will be covered through savings elsewhere in the courthouse renovation budget and by tapping the contingency reserve that was created to cover potential overruns. That drew an objection from Duffey, who predicted the contractor “will change everything they can to spend that contingency [money].”

In a separate discussion, chief building officer Otis Vaughan told board members that work at the courthouse is continuing on schedule. “Progress is coming along real well,” said Vaughan. “We’ve been fortunate not to have been hit by covid at the job site.”

In other actions:

» Supervisors agreed to back a short-term, $1 million line of credit for the Halifax County Industrial Authority to cover costs with the construction of the IDA’s new shell building on U.S. 58 at the Southern Virginia Technology Park. IDA Executive Director Brian Brown said the line of credit is needed while the IDA waits to receive disbursement from the Virginia Tobacco Commission at the conclusion of construction. The Board’s approval of the IDA borrowing does not have an impact on the county budget.

» William Tuck Airport is receiving a $272,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to design a fence to keep out wildlife at the local airport. The design work is “100 percent grant funded from the FAA and there’s no county money in the project,” Simpson told supervisors. Once the fence design is finalized, the airport will seek additional grant funding for construction.

» Board members agreed to raise the courthouse security fee, tacked onto court charges, from $10 to $20. The increase will raise the amount of revenue from the security fee to $45,000 and help cover the county’s annual $392,000 cost to provide security for courtroom personnel.

» The Board recognized Nevaeh Hodges, a senior at Halifax County High School, for organizing the June 2 Black Lives Matter demonstration in South Boston. Chairman Pannell praised Hodges for leading a successful and peaceful rally at Constitution Square.

Before honoring Hodges, supervisors voted down an objection to the presentation by ED-1 supervisor Short. Short asked the board to remain neutral and said he opposed the recognition because Pannell did not run the idea by the full board first. His complaint was voted down 7-1.

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