Those working in Hanover County’s court system had something to be thankful for last week as all seven Hanover supervisors agreed to proceed with building a new courts facility when they met shortly before the holiday.
Tuesday, Nov. 26, the board OK’d appropriating $44 million to fund the courthouse plan shelved several years ago because of a lack of funding. The 108,000 square-foot building will replace the county’s two, separate circa-1976 courthouses and could be operational by 2017.
According to John Budesky, deputy county administrator, driving the need to build a new facility are overcrowding of office and record-keeping space, issues complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and security challenges. Those problems exist alongside issues that accompany a 37-year-old facility, such as an HVAC system that’s nearing the end of its lifespan.
“It’s certainly a large-ticket project for us, but it is our top need identified as far as additional space needs,” Budesky said.
During the public hearing, several citizens weighed in on the project, citing concerns over the process and worries that the courthouse will take away funding for other capital needs in the county. Some argued that citizens should have been allowed to vote for the project in a bond referendum, an opportunity Hanoverians have been afforded with previous big-ticket capital expenses.
The need for a new courthouse emerged from a 2006 study that identified space constraints. The county has invested approximately $1 million in the design phase to date. County officials originally anticipated breaking ground on the facility in 2010, but construction was halted because of concerns over financing and the troubled economy.
The facility will house the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, court clerks and other related staff, and will include two dedicated courtrooms each for Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts.
As planned, the facility would also include about 9,200 square-feet of “shell space” to allow room for future expansion if needed.
“We want to make sure that we’re not building a facility that’s immediately out of space upon construction,” Budesky said.
The complex will be located adjacent to and behind the existing sheriff’s office in the county government complex off of Route 301 in Hanover Courthouse.
The county plans to pay for the project over two separate borrowings, adding the courthouse facility to Hanover’s existing debt service without asking for a tax increase from Hanover citizens.
This is made possible as the county’s existing debt is paid off, creating borrowing capacity that is still within Hanover’s established policies for taking on debt.
The first borrowing of $22 million would come in the spring and the county would borrow the same amount in the spring of 2016. Funding would come from either the Virginia Resources Authority or the Economic Development Authority.
The current construction and interest rate climates are favorable, Budesky said, and staff will look for ways to cut down on the facility’s estimated $44 million price tag as it revisits plans and readies the project for the bid phase.
According to the current timeline, construction would kick off in May 2016 and the building would be ready for use by April 2017.
Major renovations will be required to re-purpose the two courthouses for other county functions. Planning for those buildings’ future uses would begin in 2015 under the county’s proposed timeline and they would be fully renovated by the spring of 2018.