Courthouse ‘not a done deal’

Published 7:38 am Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Dear Editor,

Recent comments in local newspapers about the proposed new Charlotte County courthouse are very misleading. The design and location of the new building are not a “done deal” nor are they an unmodifiable mandate. 

While the general interior design has been agreed upon (two courtrooms, circuit, district and juvenile & domestic courts all to be located in the new building), the exterior design and, more important, the exact location are still under discussion.

The location of the new building is of the utmost importance because what we build now will be the legacy of our board of supervisors and the people of Charlotte County for at least the next 100 years.

While it is true that in April, Judge Robert Doherty issued an order to build a new courthouse on the courthouse square, the order specifically allows for changes to the building and location “without seeking or obtaining leave of the court” as long as both parties (the board of supervisors and the commonwealth) agree to them. 

The judges have conveyed that the exact location and the exterior design are up to the board of supervisors.

In 1996, the board of supervisors purchased -— with one deed — the 1.13-acre parcel (now the circuit court clerk’s office) and the 3.53-acre adjacent field, anticipating the eventual need to build a new courthouse. 

These two parcels together with the courthouse square form one contiguous tract owned by the county.

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, experts from Preservation Virginia and Williamsburg, and other historic architecture authorities, as well as local preservationists, have made it clear that the new building should take advantage of the natural slope descending into the field in order to appear as a single story on the square with additional levels below grade. 

It should not be physically connected to the clerk’s office. A recent letter from Julie Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, to R.B. Clark, county administrator, reiterated these recommendations. An excellent example of what preservationists are requesting is the Bank of Charlotte County building next to the clerk’s office.

From the front, it appears to be a modest single-story building, but a back view reveals that it descends down the slope with a lower level.

The current plans for the new courthouse project an enormous three-story building on the existing parking lot, connected to the back of the clerk’s office. 

Its sheer mass will overwhelm all of the other buildings on the square, including our Jeffersonian courthouse. This plan will likely require a significant amount of excavation and also fill for proposed parking lots. 

Utilizing the natural slope would not only be more esthetically pleasing and compatible with the historic square, but, while a specific cost analysis has not yet been done, might save the county money by requiring less excavation and less exterior embellishment.

From day one, preservationists have asked that a plan be drawn utilizing the slope. 

The board of supervisors, specifically the “courthouse committee” (composed of Gary Walker, Robert Shook, R.B. Clark and Monica Elder), have refused to ask the architects to draw that plan while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on plans they have already been told would not be acceptable to the historic community or the Department of Historic Resources. 

Why won’t the committee ask the architects to draw a plan utilizing the slope? Why can’t we use the land that was purchased for expansion of the courthouse? 

If it’s not to be used for the courthouse, what does the board of supervisors intend to do with the field? We have been unable to get honest answers to these questions. If, like us, you would like answers, contact your supervisor today.

Kathy Liston and Earl Strain