County to draft RFPs for architects to renovate

Published 6:22 pm Friday, August 9, 2019


Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson has been authorized to make a first draft of request for proposals to find a new architectural firm solely for the renovation of the existing courthouse.

This action was authorized by a majority of the county’s supervisors following nearly two hours of discussion in a public meeting on Tuesday evening in the board room. Only supervisor Barry Porter of the Franklin District voted against such an action.

Presently, Moseley Architects has been the firm that’s come up with proposed designs for either a new courthouse or renovated one.

Susan Gillette was one of the speakers who expressed dissatisfaction with Moseley, and called for the board to hire a new firm. Jim Hart advocated for only renovating the existing courthouse. He even asked people who were seated to stand in if they also supported such action. There were few, if any, who remained seated.

The impetus for the gathering — complete with public comment — and subsequent decision comes from a letter sent on July 24 by Judge Carl E. Eason Jr. of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Virginia. In that statement to Johnson, he noted that the county government officials have not made notable progress to improve the condition of the county courthouse. In brief, the judges of the circuit have given the county government a 12-month deadline to show “actual and meaningful physical renovations, which, at a minimum, meet the standards established by the Supreme Court of Virginia … .”

The consequence for not visibly demonstrating said work by the deadline will be to move court sessions to neighboring Isle of Wight County of the City of Suffolk.

In reply to repeating the procurement of a new architect, Johnson said that could take ideally three months, and would include issuing RFPs, evaluating proposals, reaching a consensus and then negotiating terms and awarding a contract.

That would be followed by three more months for planning, which would involve a needs assessment, master planning and architectural programming. There’s 10 to 12 months that would be needed for design: a schematic design, development and plans and specifications.

Bidding would be two to three months, which involves making a public notice to bidders, a pre-bid conference and awarding a construction contract.

All that must be done before any “actual and meaningful” construction could be started. The building process, added Johnson, might take 15 to 18 months, and required site work and building, systems commissioning and project closeout. To prepare for occupancy might be another month, involving staff assignments, special training and the actual moving in of furniture and equipment.

Following citizens comments, county resident Joe Vick had a longer scheduled time to address the board, but turned that time over J. Buckley Warden IV, the attorney hired by the Citizens for Responsible Government. He noted there are “a lot of angry people in this room,” and that he would be as “independent as possible” about the issue.

Franklin City Manager Amanda Jarratt was present with most of the City Council, and spoke for them.

In addition to reminding the supervisors that the City is going to keep its courthouse, which is on Pretlow Street, she also reassured the board that council wants to continue to work with the County in this matter, especially as Franklin must contribute 32 percent of the expenses in being allowed to use the courthouse.

After conferring with the council, Jarratt offered the temporary use of its courthouse to the county should the need arise. This suggestion originally came from Benny Burgess at last month’s joint meeting. She added that were this to become a permanent situation, permission would be needed by the Commission on District Courts and the General Assembly.

Discussion among the supervisors went back and forth on the matter, ultimately coming to the consensus by all but Porter, who questioned the need to go through the process yet again.