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My experience on the courthouse / September 29, 2016

Dear Viewpoint:

There has been misinformation surfacing regarding the Halifax County Courthouse Project. During my 12 year tenure on the board, my experience and decisions regarding the courthouse were as follows:

» The County approved the initiating of the courthouse renovation project in 2011. It requested proposals from architectural firms, interviewed several, and ultimately hired CJMW in January, 2012.

» The Commonwealth later filed its legal action against the County in June, 2012, knowing that a courthouse Space/Needs study was being conducted. Clearly, legal action did not compel the County to act as it had already begun the first phase of the project.

» The County knew early about the state budget moratorium. The board’s view was that the two year moratorium, even if continued indefinitely, was a non-factor. It did not address or solve the problem of a vastly out of compliance courthouse facility. The VA Courthouse Facility Guidelines (VCFG) sets forth the requirements and some recommendations such facilities need in today’s world. The County focused on the plans to meet ALL of the requirements, and SOME, but not ALL of the recommendations.

» The County’s goal was to avoid costly and lengthy litigation with the Commonwealth while still resisting many of the Commonwealth’s requested recommendations. That has been achieved.

» The Commonwealth stipulated early on that the Commonwealth Attorney (CA) facility was outside of its authority, not included in the legal action, and up to the County to solve. The County’s position was to negotiate an agreeable courthouse renovation plan with the Commonwealth and then to link the County’s CA solution to the whole project. As I understand it, that is still the plan.

» The recent “lack of transparency” talk puzzles me. The publicity surrounding this project was clearly and routinely evident from 2011 forward. My election district #4 included the Town of Halifax. Not once, during those four years, did I hear a request, inquiry, or comment from the Town of Halifax or a member of its Council that they wanted to review any of the numerous plans. Certainly, the town knew and had reason to inquire. The County was in a legal battle with the Commonwealth. Legal discussions are held in closed session for good reason. I doubted the Town wanted to join in that legal process.

» During this due diligence, the County looked at totally new construction on another site. That was not pursued for historic preservation and hugely more expensive reasons (check Charlotte County vs Halifax) The County also acted to move its administration to Mary Bethune Complex, moved the Sheriff from the courthouse to its new location, and unanimously approved a 2 cent increase in the real estate tax restricted to the courthouse renovation.

Bottom line, in my view and based on my experience, the County firmly stood to control the scope of the courthouse renovation project, respecting its historic preservation, and won against long odds.

Doug Bowman

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