Architects get OK to confirm courthouse space needs

Published 10:53 am Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed during Monday night’s meeting to contract Moseley Architects to confirm space needs for any courthouse renovations and conceptual design. This followed lengthy discussion by the supervisors after Tony Bell, one of the firm’s architects, made a presentation summarizing work done so far and the options for the next steps.

Bell reminded all present that the referendum vote — which was slightly over 75 percent against a proposed new courthouse — means the County must meet its Circuit Court needs on the existing parcel of land or contiguous parcels.

Option 2, as it was referred, is for a courthouse that would meet the 20-year space needs, as well as being in compliance with the Virginia Courthouse Facility guidelines, the Courts and Constitutional officers.

That option could mean that the 1960s portion of the courthouse be demolished. Bell said that was originally built as office space that’s not easily adaptable. Further, “floor-to-floor heights don’t allow for integration of building systems to meet contemporary building codes,” he said.

Bell also told the supervisors that the firm would take the time to sit down them and the courthouse users — judges, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Clerk of Court, staff, etc.

He pointed out that “escalating construction costs erodes the ability to meet needs for the same cost. What you buy today is different from five years ago. Escalation of construction cost is estimated at 3.5 percent per year.”

He then requested for approval to move forward with the program and conceptual plan.

In response, vice chairman Ronnie West requested more time to talk with others and research, which fellow supervisor Carl Faison echoed.

Barry Porter added, “I want to do what courts need in the most cost-effective way … I have real concerns about spending $26M.”

Randolph Cook agreed, “We need to explore other options. We need to do what’s right for the least amount of money.

Dr. Alan Edwards said, “We have to come up with an option that satisfies all the rules. I just cannot see that tax burden falling on the taxpayers. I’m not ready to make decision.”

Bruce Phillips said the board “should not rush into anything. We have look at the costs and begin a dialogue on what the judges want, and I think that’s what the public wants us to do.”

Indeed, during the citizens comment period, Courtland resident Jason Fowler urged the board to “Slow down on work for courthouse and explore options.”

Porter also said, “We need to be careful that we don’t go into a half-baked project. We need it to be good for 20, 30, 40, 50 years.”

After which, West said he wants the board to re-examine the space needs.

“We understand this is not an easy decision,” Bell acknowledged.

County administrator Mike Johnson said that Moseley has proposed to proceed with confirmation of the program and conceptual design endorsed by the Courthouse Planning Committee (Option 2) for up to $8,600. This involves additional onsite meetings with individual members of the Board as well as other project stakeholders to confirm the conceptual plan for Option 2. Should these meetings result in substantial requested modification to the program design or conceptual plan, they agree to provide additional services on an hourly basis, not to exceed $10,000. The total contract for basic and additional services (if necessary) is $18,600.

Porter than made the motion to hire MA for the discussed project.

“All right, Mr. Bell, you can go to work,” said Chairman Dallas Jones.