City to issue RFP for courts building

Published 9:51 pm Friday, August 30, 2019


Franklin’s City Council voted 6-1 on Aug. 12 to authorize City Manager Amanda Jarratt to solicit proposals from architectural firms for security improvements to the city’s combined courts building on Pretlow Street.

This was following Jarratt’s report to the Council regarding the outcome of a July 26 meeting she attended in the city of Suffolk’s courthouse with four judges who regularly hear cases in Franklin’s combined courts building. General District Court Judges Alfred W. Bates III and Nicole A. Belote, along with Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court Judges James E. Wiser and Stan D. Clark, according to Jarratt, said that Franklin’s courts building would need a walk-through metal detector in the building’s foyer, as well as an X-ray scanner for bags and purses, also in the foyer, to comply with the Supreme Court of Virginia’s guidelines for courthouse design and security.

When asked if the building’s foyer would need to be enlarged to accommodate the new equipment, the city manager said that both devices should be able to fit in the existing space.

The Council had directed Jarratt to arrange such a meeting with Franklin’s judges following their 5-2 vote in May to pass a resolution informing Southampton County’s Board of Supervisors that the city wishes to keep its lower courts in Franklin rather than combine them with the county’s lower courts in a new or renovated Southampton County Courthouse. The Council had intended at the time for this meeting to be between the judges and the Council members rather than just with Jarratt. She explained that the judges, however, had preferred not to meet with the entire City Council at this time.

“I reiterated that request to them in person during our discussion,” Jarratt said.

Another concern the judges had mentioned, she said, was a lack of secure parking for them and other court staff to use. This would likely entail creating a gated parking area separate from the main parking lot.

“Since we have said we’re keeping our courthouse, it’s our obligation to make sure that it’s safe and secure,” Jarratt said.

“We’ve read and reviewed the [Supreme Court of Virginia’s] courthouse guidelines book very extensively,” the city manager added. “I feel confident we can make our building safe and secure, but to meet those guidelines, we’ve got to have professional assistance.”

Councilman Greg McLemore, who was the one dissenting vote on authorizing the RFP, questioned the need to hire an architect, and suggested that the city could potentially save money by just hiring a construction contractor, and then having the city’s director of community development, Donald Goodwin, sign off on the permits and make sure everything is up to code. However, Councilman Benny Burgess countered that an architect would give the city “apples to apples” bids when it came time to issue an RFP for the actual construction work.

“One [contractor] could do plastic chairs and another could do a nice bench,” Burgess said. “Architects give you what standard you’re going to build to.”

Councilman Linwood Johnson agreed that the city needed a design in place before a contractor could come in, but suggested that the city might be able to save money by soliciting bids from universities that teach architecture. Jarratt, on Thursday, Aug. 29, said the implementation of Johnson’s suggestion was “in process.”

When asked if the city’s RFP would include anything beyond the scanners and secure parking, she replied, “Yes,” but said she and her staff were still working on those details. Jarratt did, however, confirm that the judges had not mentioned anything about needing to split the city’s combined courts into separate General District and Juvenile & Domestic Relations courts.

Asked when the city might hear back from architectural firms with formal proposals, she was uncertain, since the city had not yet finalized the RFP.