Architecture firm presents Southampton County courthouse report

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

This is a design for the first floor if a new courthouse were to be built in Southampton County. -- Courtesy | PMA Architecture Firm

This is a design for the first floor if a new courthouse were to be built in Southampton County. — Courtesy | PMA Architecture Firm

At the request of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors, Jeff Stodghill of PMA Architecture Firm presented a report at Monday evening’s meeting regarding the possible renovation or replacement of the county courthouse.

“We’re dealing with a courthouse which part of it was built in the 1800s. Some of it was built in the 1960s,” Stoghill said. “But, as it sits today, it lacks several major features which you would have in a courthouse facility as required by the Supreme Court of Virginia.”

Security upgrades to the century-old building have been discussed for more than three years, and various court personnel have voiced their concerns that it is not up to today’s standards.

“One of the issues that the judges brought to our attention in this meeting is the lack of secure access for court personnel,” Stoghill said.

“In the parking lot, there is not any separation from the public, which would provide safety to the court personnel and the judges entering the building. There’s also no dedicated staff entrance providing separate security.”

Stoghill added that from his architectural viewpoint, there is very little flexibility for the current building, as it struggles to meet today’s building code standards.

“It’s not sprinkled, it doesn’t have a modern fire alarm system and it has egress problems,” he said. “In the world I live in, an existing building can continue to function as long as you don’t try to change it too much. Coming out of the meeting with the judges, it was very clear that this building doesn’t work for their services any longer and it doesn’t perform properly or meet the Supreme Court’s standards.”

Given the site’s needs, Stodghill displayed two options for the county: to renovate the existing courthouse or build a new courthouse on a new site. While he didn’t say where a new courthouse could be located, his presentation showed the cost and the blueprints for each option.

The first option (renovating the existing courthouse), based on the presumption of construction starting no later than January 2017, would demolish part of the 1960s building and a portion of the historic building. The portion of the building that houses the prisoner holding cells, elevator, judgets chambers and clerk’s offices would be retained.

It would cost the county and its taxpayers roughly $16.5 million to renovate the current courthouse. Building a new courthouse on a yet-to-be-determined site would cost approximately $14 million.

“Because the new construction approach has less uncertainties, it’s actually easier to get a grip at what the cost would likely be,” Stoghill said. “I would stand here and tell you now that I’m disappointed and more surprised that the renovation is more expensive than new construction.”

A new building would require a site with approximately 15 to 20 acres of land located on a publicly accessible road with easy access to electrical, sewer and water utilities. Both options would take 18 to 24 months to complete.

“I don’t know what to say except that I’m not surprised,” vice chairman Ronald West said.

“You look at the project numbers and see that if we stay or if we go, it’s the same price,” supervisor Barry Porter said. “Except, the complexity is infinitely more if we try to renovate.”

Supervisor Dr. Alan Edwards added, “We’ve got an old courthouse that’s on the floodplain … I think it’s time for a new courthouse. I see the writing on the wall.”

Stoghill also presented the figures associated with repurposing the current courthouse if it is vacated. He estimated that it would cost $2 million to $3.5 million to fit the building for reuse, though he was hesitant to say what they could become.

“There are so many problems with those buildings as they sit that trying to repurpose them for just about anything is going to be difficult,” he said.