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October 8, 2020

New courthouse could cost $55.3 million or more

File Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Built in 1890, the courthouse on Main Street accommodates the busiest dockets. General district court judges hear traffic, criminal and civil cases.
Built in the 1970s, the 40 Culpeper St. building has two gallery-style courtroom, each with 44 seats for spectators and a range of security challenges.
There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of unanswered questions. I just think we need more information before we go down this path.
— Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel
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By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
A consultant’s top recommendation to put Fauquier’s three courts in a new downtown Warrenton building would cost an estimated $55.3 million.

Architectural/engineering firm BKV Group on Thursday gave Fauquier’s board of supervisors a virtual presentation of various options to address a range of courthouse challenges.

The county’s Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts operate in three separate buildings clustered close together downtown.

The U.S. Marshal’s Office last year completed a “security assessment” of the three courthouses. Based on the study’s findings, Sheriff Bob Mosier recommended that the courts occupy one building.

The $55.3-million option — a three-story, 101,467-square-foot building on an acre the county owns along West Lee Street represents the least expensive alternative that BKV developed.

At the high end, a $90-million option calls for a new county government building of 29,190 square feet on the same Lee Street site, where the sheriff’s office evidence building stands.

It also provides for a 29,781-square-foot expansion and remodeling of the county court/office building at 40 Culpeper St. to accommodate the judicial system.

Built in the 1970s, the five-story brick building totals 63,871 square feet and houses the circuit court system — including the clerk’s office and records room, the judge’s chamber and the commonwealth’s attorney office — along with county government agencies.

The county asked BKV, which has a Washington office, to develop concepts that would accommodate 20 years of growth.

Without expansion, the courthouse at 40 Culpeper St. couldn’t satisfy that requirement for the judicial system. For that reason, the consultant didn’t prepare a cost estimate for simply remodeling the structure.

Besides the three courts, the recommended $55.3-million option would include space for the three clerks’ offices, the commonwealth’s attorney office, the magistrates’ office, secured “lower-level parking” and a prisoner holding area, according to BKV.

> Report at bottom of story

The price of the recommended option took supervisors’ Chairwoman Mary Leigh McDaniel (Marshall District) by surprise.

“It was more than I thought it would be,” Ms. McDaniel said after the work session. “But I’m not sure what I had in mind.”

The issue will require more study and thought, the supervisor said.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of unanswered questions,” Ms. McDaniel said. “I just think we need more information before we go down this path.

“We just have to very thoughtful and make sure we’re getting the best bang for every taxpayer dollar we’re asking people to give us.”

The board also must consider court needs in the context of other demands, perhaps most immediately a $57.4-million plan to expand and renovate William C. Taylor Middle School in Warrenton and to expand Cedar Lee Middle School in Bealeton, the supervisor said.

The middle school and courthouse projects “could happen concurrently” and have major impacts on taxes, county debt and future boards, Ms. McDaniel said.

After the BKV presentation, the supervisors and school officials conducted a virtual work session to discuss funding, timing and financing of the middle school projects.

Because the Lee Street site lies within Warrenton’s historic district, its development would require town government approval.

BKV believes the property needs town council rezoning because of the proposed building’s height and the structure’s lot coverage.

While the site has “Public Semi-Public” zoning that allows “some flexibility,” Supervisor Chris Granger (Center District) said: “Let’s get fully educated about that before we start making assumptions.”

BKV estimated that a 180-space parking lot to serve a new courthouse on Lee Street site would cost $2.6 million.

At Mr. Granger’s prompting, County Administrator Paul S. McCulla suggested nearby county-0owned parking could be incorporated into a plan to help serve the project to offset costs.

“It didn’t set me back on my heels,” Supervisor Holder Trumbo (Scott District) said of the recommended option’s $55.3-million price tag. “You get what you pay for. But, I didn’t want to hear it.”

Solving the courts’ space, security, access and other challenges will be difficult, Mr. Trumbo said.

“You can move the courthouse and put people in it. But what do you do with the other buildings,” — the 1890 courthouse and adjacent juvenile and domestic relations structure at 14 Main St.?

Any scenario could need buy-in from the judges, Mr. Trumbo added.

“We have a long way to go.”

Contact Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-0300.

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Tell It Like It Is · October 12, 2020 at 2:43 pm
One courthouse building has been serving for almost 5o years and the other for
130 yrs.

Our BOS is only asking to forecast for 20 years of growth.

Is it me or does that seem extremely short sighted and irresponsible?
Savefauquiercounty2019 · October 11, 2020 at 6:58 am
Absurdity has a new meaning. Go after the dishonest employers hiring illegals instead of Americans and make them pay hefty fines and back taxes. Make them pay back the state for health care costs and the county for educational expenses. Every employee who hires an immigrant over an American first should be slapped with hefty fines. Use these fines to provide resources to our criminal justice system. The tax payers have been abused enough.
molly33 · October 10, 2020 at 9:59 am
This would be an obscene waste of taxpayer money. I'm still angry that the town council allowed the tax money saved and allocated to our water system was "taken" and spent toward other development resulting in an almost quadrupling of my water bill. This new courthouse, if approved, will also lead to big tax increases for we the Warrenton citizens.
ctwotw · October 9, 2020 at 12:45 pm
With the recently announced merger of The Fauquier Bank, it seems possible if not probable that their main office and/or wealth management office across from the Courthouse will become available. As another option, perhaps the county can explore the acquisition of one or both buildings (particularly the wealth management office) along with their sizable parking lot by OTW standards. Retrofitting an existing building is expensive but it might be a lot more reasonable than spending over $55 million.
Cammie Rodgers · October 9, 2020 at 11:55 am
Move the jail and the Courthouse elsewhere, get it out of Old Town.
charlly · October 9, 2020 at 2:22 am
The courthouse looks super classy and I hope all the justice decisions are going to take on this courthouse. All the best for all the advocates and other people who are going to work there. the page here It was really informative.
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