County Officials Seek Community Input on Courthouse’s Future

Residents of Washington County encouraged to ask questions, offer feedback on next steps

ABINGDON, Va., July 2, 2019 – Washington County officials are seeking public input in addressing the challenges and opportunities facing the Washington County Courthouse.

County representatives say the historic building, located on Main Street in downtown Abingdon and completed in 1868, was not designed to support the amount of activity that takes place at the facility, and it’s time to consider options for growth.

“If you don’t visit the courthouse on a regular basis, you may not realize what a busy place it is,” says County Administrator Jason Berry. “The age and design of the structure, which is actually four separate buildings, creates some concerns when it comes to modern needs. We know that changes are needed in order to best serve our community, and we want residents of Washington County to share their thoughts on how we should move forward.”

The county has identified three potential solutions for the courthouse: build a new courthouse, renovate a portion of the current facility and later construct a new courthouse, or adapt and reuse the former Kmart building located on Towne Centre Drive. Estimated construction and financing costs have been provided by Davenport & Company, the county’s financial advisor.

To share details on each option and gather community feedback, the county has launched www.washcovacourthouse.com, which includes additional information about the challenges and needs facing the courthouse, details surrounding each of the three proposed solutions, a schedule of key dates, and a submission form for individuals to share their comments and questions.

Residents will also have the opportunity to attend several upcoming meetings to learn more on the subject. The first, a board of supervisors open house meeting, will be held Tuesday, July 2, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Auditorium of the Washington County Government Center Building.

Town Hall meetings featuring board of supervisors representatives have also been scheduled in each district, including:

Monday, July 15, at 6:30 p.m.

Virginia Highlands Community College Auditorium

Harrison and Madison districts

Thursday, July 18, at 6:00 p.m.          

Rhea Valley Elementary (room to be determined)

Taylor District

Friday, July 19, at 6:00 p.m.          

Patrick Henry High School Auditorium

Monroe and Jefferson districts

Monday, July 22, at 6 p.m.

John S. Battle High School Auditorium

Tyler and Wilson districts

All meetings are open to all Washington County residents, and additional meetings are currently being considered.

Once community feedback has been reviewed, the board of supervisors will hold a called meeting in late July to vote on whether to include a public referendum on the November 2019 ballot. Options one and three would require a referendum, while option two, the renovation of the existing courthouse and eventual construction of a new facility, would not. If the matter goes to a public referendum, the referendum language must be finalized and submitted to the Circuit Court Chief Judge by Aug. 1.

Berry notes that county representatives have identified three main areas where courthouse operations need improvement, including space, access and security.

“The issues we are facing are not new,” Berry says. “We’ve been studying them for years and asking for guidance from industry professionals.”

According to a 2016 needs assessment performed by Thompson & Litton, an architecture and civil engineering firm based in Wise, Virginia, the current courthouse hosts 47,000 square feet of available space, but needs 88,000 square feet to accommodate current and future activity.

“We have staff members who are using hallways and traffic areas for office space,” Berry says. “Plus, it’s not uncommon for the General District Court to see up to 400 cases in a day. When you have a facility with limited waiting rooms, it creates a situation that’s less than ideal.”

Outside the courthouse, parking is also in demand. The facility’s dedicated lot contains 75 spaces for the 77 employees on staff. Parking on the streets around the courthouse is restricted to two-hour stays, often prompting staff and visitors to periodically leave to move their vehicles.

“This courthouse was completed nearly 20 years before cars were even invented,” Berry says. “The architects and builders never thought about needing a parking lot.”

The facility also presents challenges for law enforcement. Tasked with screening visitors and maintaining an orderly traffic flow between the three separate courts in the building, officers work to ensure that staff, judges and inmates are not using the same parking areas or corridors at the same time.

For courthouse details, resources, and contact information visit www.washcovacourthouse.com.

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MEDIA NOTE: The attached renderings show tentative looks for Option 3, adaptive reuse of the former Kmart building located on Towne Centre Drive.