What a yes vote means

Published 12:07 pm Saturday, October 28, 2017

To the Editor:

As Nov. 7 approaches, we the undersigned courthouse staff have watched and waited to see how our local newspaper would cover the courthouse story and the impact of the critical vote to the city and county residents. As employees of the courthouse, we would like to inform the public of some facts about the building.

The courthouse has suffered the test of time and is past the point of simple renovation. The building may have history, but it is not “historic” as it did not qualify for the Virginia Historic Register because it has been renovated so many times. The building is in a flood plain and is locked in by Main Street, the Nottoway River and the historic buildings around it.

The HVAC system does not work properly — it is outdated and inadequate to support the current structure. Water is constantly being pumped out of the basement and it seeps through the brick walls.  The result is a constant battle with humidity and continuously growing black mold that is not only on the walls, but also in the air ducts, despite the County’s efforts to maintain the system and clean the black mold. This affects not only staff, but also members of the public coming to the courthouse for a variety of reasons.

There is no sprinkler system and the current building does not have adequate ceiling space to install a new system.

There is inadequate security per today’s standards, including a lack of surveillance cameras to track individuals from the time they reach the parking lot until they leave the premises.

There is no adequate escape route in the event of an active shooter or fire in certain areas of the building.

There is a lack of adequate parking for the public and staff on court days. Some would argue that we would add additional parking with a renovation, but that additional parking for the public will be off the premises.

Many argue that there will be a higher cost to transport inmates to and from court. The truth is that half of the inmates that come to Court are already being transported each court day from Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk, and at least every other week there are several inmates housed in other locations around the state that must be transported.

If the vote is “No,” all court proceedings, including jury trials and divorce/custody cases in Circuit Court, will be held in the Isle of Wight or Suffolk courthouses as renovations/rebuilding occur. There will be costs for transporting jurors and inmates to other facilities for court, plus even local witnesses will be paid for travel reimbursement. Most likely, the staff of three different offices will be housed in trailers and there will be limited access to many records as they will be stored in an offsite, climate controlled storage facility.

The vote on the referendum this Nov. 7 is strictly to determine if a new courthouse will be built at a new location.

The choices we have are to either vote “yes” and spend a locked-in cost of roughly $26.5M on a new courthouse at a new location with the potential for future growth, or vote “no” and spend an estimated $26.25M on a renovated courthouse with no room for growth and probably a higher price tag because once the contractors get into renovating the original courthouse, more and more problems may be revealed, with the potential for the cost to skyrocket, and the voters will have no say in the amount spent at that point.

The fact of the matter is the $7.9M renovation option has already been rejected. So you have to ask yourself is the difference of about $250,000 worth squeezing a rebuilt courthouse onto the existing site in a flood plain, with parking offsite and no room for future growth?

Ultimately the decision is in the hands of the voters. “Yes” means a new building on a new site and “No” means renovating/rebuilding on the existing site. Millions of dollars will be spent whether the final vote is yes or no. Please review the Voter Education Brochure at www.southamptoncounty.org.

We just ask that the voters make an informed decision based on facts.

Linda Beatty
Beth Cobb
Melanie Cross
Renee’ Diaz
Cora Falkins
Sharon Fletcher
Shayna Hill
Theresa Kannan