Opinion: Visionary board behind new courthouse

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 10:47 am

By Ragan Phillips

Our Hanover County Board of Supervisors are certainly visionary.

Take the BOS approval for a new Hanover County Courthouse as one of the most recent examples.

I was not in favor of this expenditure, especially when looked at relative to the needs of Hanover County’s public education system. But, after further thought, I began to see the justifications that the supervisors had in mind in approving this new Hanover County showcase.

The two current courthouses, completed in the late 1970s, with a total space of 74,000 square feet, must be inadequate. Even if the board were to allocate $10-15 million for renovation of these poor old buildings along with a major upgrade in security they would pale in comparison to the new 108,400 square-foot, $44 million courthouse. (On a square-foot basis that works out to be about $460 per square foot, about three times the cost of a well-built residence; but the courthouse will be a Hanover County monument and so, naturally, the cost will be higher.)

My backward thinking had to do with the role assigned to our classroom teachers. I thought our teachers were charged with educating students and helping them become responsible, productive adults in this era of globalization and hyper-speed technology. It must be perfectly acceptable in Hanover County to crowd 25 or so students into each classroom and give them 2003 (that is not a misprint!) technology. But, obviously the new monument, I mean courthouse, is the priority of our forward-thinking board of supervisors.

There was another “visionary” aspect to this decision. As the BOS continues to slowly reduce funding to the public schools we all realize there will be an inevitable rise in social problems that require resolution with the judges in the big, new courthouse. It will need space – and no doubt additional judges – to handle this rise in a variety of social issues directly related to an underfunded public education system. In My Opinion that really is thinking ahead and planning for the future. Such foresight!

And the final reason has to do with Donald Trump. Our current board of supervisors certainly would not want to retire without a legacy, something of the nature of the Trump Plaza Casino in Atlantic City. The new courthouse will forever be a monument to the political skill of the board. I am certain the county, with quiet urging by all those judges sitting in their modern offices, will dedicate the new courthouse to this ever so resourceful board.

In announcing the new courthouse, W. Canova Peterson IV, then the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, is quoted as saying “Without this new courthouse, we’re going to be having real trials there…” He was referring to the 1735 Hanover Courthouse and noting that it was not designed for 21st Century work. I suppose the board applies the same logic to those 1979 courthouses as not being adequate for the new century. And, my goodness, who would want their name on the dedication of a “renovation” when it could be on a new structure.

When we have 70-year-old schools badly in need of repairs, and critical technological resources a decade out of step, how does one justify a $460 /square foot modern courthouse?  Is it possible that a $10-15 million well-planned renovation could have prolonged the use of 1979 buildings? I realize there are serious security concerns for our judges…but those concerns are tenfold for our students and teachers.

The board of supervisors has made the decision for the county. We can only await the outcome.

About the writer:

Ragan Phillips and his wife, along with their two dogs, reside in Ashland. Their three grandsons attended Hanover County public schools for a combined 34 years. The writer encourages comment and criticism and may be contacted at rtphil504@gmail.com.



Headlines of the Day