The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors will consider a concept for a new Circuit Courthouse facility when it meets on June 22. The conceptual plan, developed by an advisory committee consisting of local officials and local history advocates, calls for building a new courthouse on the site of the existing Circuit Courthouse on Main Street in Fincastle, the county seat. The plan includes a new courthouse “green” area for public use and gatherings, expanded parking, and relocating the Botetourt County Historical Society’s Museum. It also includes relocating the Confederate Veterans’ Monument that currently stands beside the front steps to the current courthouse, according to a news release from the county.
The county’s current courthouse was rebuilt in 1975 after being destroyed by fire. Over the course of its near 45-year lifespan, the building has become increasingly unsuitable for workers and visitors. The building does not meet current state courthouse standards or federal standards for persons with disabilities. A 2019 facility assessment conducted by Spectrum Design of Roanoke documented extensive problems, including water leaks from the foundation, walls, and roofs, failing mechanical systems, and inadequate security. Growth in court caseloads and other services provided to the county’s growing population have resulted in severe overcrowding in the current courthouse, the release said.
The county hired Architectural Partners of Lynchburg and appointed an advisory committee to come up with a solution. The Architectural Partners team included Ken Jandura of the Washington, D.C.-based DLR Group, a pre-eminent court facilities designer in the United States. The advisory committee included Circuit Court Judge Joel Branscom, Clerk of Circuit Court Tommy Moore, Commonwealth’s Attorney John Alexander, Fincastle Mayor Mary Bess Smith, Botetourt Board of Supervisors members Richard Bailey and Steve Clinton, Botetourt Historical Society representatives Weldon Martin and Ed Holt, and staff from the Sheriff’s Department and County Administration. Retired Circuit Court Judge Malfourd “Bo” Trumbo served as a consultant.
The proposed courthouse concept calls for a new facility that retains the appearance of the current courthouse. It duplicates the existing red brick façade with white-columned portico, the building’s green raised-seam metal roof, and its signature clock spire.
The estimated cost of the project is approximately $25 million. An independent financial analysis commissioned by the county indicates that the county can afford the new courthouse project without raising tax rates. The analysis was conducted by VACO/VML Finance of Richmond.
“The committee immediately had two goals for the courthouse,” said Architectural Partners Project Manager Jim Vernon. “Meet the long-term needs of the court system and retain the look of the current courthouse. The recommended concept meets both of those goals. It also represents the most efficient and cost-effective solution among numerous alternatives,” he added.
Another goal of the committee was to enhance the vitality of the Town of Fincastle. The courthouse green and generous parking are intended to support public gatherings and events in the heart of Fincastle, and to improve access to surrounding businesses. Relocating the museum building is another element that has generated much continuing discussion.
“Avoiding or minimizing impact on the Historical Society’s Museum was important to the committee,” noted Vernon. “Relocating the building ended up being the proposal, but that is not the only option.”
Historical Society, town and county officials are continuing to explore options. Vernon confirmed that there remains some time to consider options before making a final decision on the museum, without delaying the courthouse project.
The committee’s complete report and a report by Architectural Partners on the proposed new location for the Confederate Veterans’ Monument are available on the county’s website at botetourtva.gov/news. Questions about the reports should be addressed to the County Administrator’s Office by calling (540) 928-2006 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested persons are encouraged to comment online at “www.boco.community,” by email or phone to the County Administrator’s Office at the number above, or during the Citizens Comment portion of the Board of Supervisors meeting at 2 p.m. on June 22 in the Botetourt County Administration Center at 57 S. Center Drive, Daleville.
Those who do not wish to attend in person may listen to the meeting and/or speak during the Citizens Comment time or one of the public hearings by calling 1-929-205-6099 or 1-301-715-8592 and entering the meeting ID 813 0263 2305. An automated operator will answer the call and provide direction for commenting during the meeting. Comments will be limited to three minutes. The line will be open beginning at 1:55 p.m. the afternoon of the meeting. This option is only available during the course of the meeting.
Questions and answers provided in the news release
- Is this project necessary? Why can’t the circuit court, the clerk and the commonwealth’s attorney make do with what they have?
First, a 2019 assessment conducted by Spectrum Design of Roanoke documented extensive issues with the building, including water leaks from the foundation, walls, and roofs, failing mechanical systems, and inadequate ventilation and air purification. These conditions have created an unhealthy environment that corrective measures have been unsuccessful at solving.
Second, security for court personnel, the public, jurors, witnesses, and litigants is not adequate.
Third, the volume of activity in the offices has increased exponentially since the circuit courthouse was rebuilt in 1975 and it continues to increase. They are simply out of room. Fourth, the current circuit courthouse building requires extensive rehabilitation and reconstruction to remain able to be occupied and cannot practically be expanded to provide needed space; renovation and expansion is not functionally effective or cost-effective.
- Why demolish and build a new courthouse instead of renovating and expanding the current building?
The existing courthouse building was constructed in 1975 and could not be entirely preserved even if renovated and expanded. Extensive issues with the existing building would make renovation complex and expensive. The Forella Group, an independent cost estimating consultant, conducted an assessment and unequivocally found that there could be no expected cost advantage to retaining any part of the existing structure.
Their reasons were as follows: a) a greater degree of inefficiency in design layout utilizing existing spaces and heights, b) a greater degree of construction complexity with partial demolition, c) additional construction complexity with tying existing construction to new, d) a longer construction period with added construction complexity, and e) a larger budget contingency needed for unknown conditions within existing construction.
Similarly, there were no anticipated cost advantages to maintaining the “façade” facing Main Street for many of the same reasons. New construction will replicate the architecture of the existing building. There are no historic, economic, architectural, or functional advantages to preserving any portion of the existing structure.
- How much will this project cost?
The total projected cost of the project is approximately $25 million. This is based on a professional cost estimator’s assessment for the proposed plan. The actual cost will not be known until a construction contract is bid, negotiated, and awarded. Before that can happen, detailed construction drawings will need to be prepared by a professional design firm.
- Can we afford this project? Yes. Independent financial consultants have confirmed that the county’s strong financial position and current revenue base combined with anticipated favorable financing rates will allow funding of this project without the need for tax rate increases and without adversely impacting normal county operations or services.
- How will we pay for this? The most likely way is through a low-interest loan from the Virginia Resources Authority or similar institution that specializes in financings for public projects. Financing will spread the cost of the project over its useful life (20 or more years) and provide the county affordable debt service payments without depleting the county’s cash fund balance.
- Is there funding from any other sources available to help with this project? We do not know yet, but we are working on it. The county is working with its financial advisors, architectural/engineering consultants, the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, and stakeholders including the Town of Fincastle and the Botetourt Historical Society to identify and pursue grants and other potential funding mechanisms to offset some of the cost of the project. Whether and how much non-county funding can be secured remains to be determined.
- If approved, when will this happen? The Board of Supervisors will consider this concept at its June 22 meeting. If the board approves the concept and authorizes moving forward at that meeting, the project is not expected to be completed and the new courthouse occupied before December 2024. Building and site design is projected to take approximately a year. Construction is expected to take nearly two years.
- Where will the Circuit Court and Clerk’s Office be housed while construction is taking place? The Circuit Court will be relocated into currently unfinished space in the basement of the county’s Public Safety Facility in Fincastle. The Circuit Court Clerk’s Office will be housed in the Old District Courthouse in Fincastle that was vacated by County Administration in 2020.
- What does this project mean to the Town of Fincastle?
This is a transformational project and opportunity for the town. Reconstruction of the Circuit Courthouse and renovation of the surrounding area to include a courthouse green and additional parking will create an enhanced space in the center of Fincastle that will beautify the area and provide greater opportunity for public gathering and events. The recommended concept plan also offers infrastructure (parking, pedestrian access, and beautification) that can support other property uses within and close to Courthouse Square.
- How will this affect the Botetourt Historical Society’s Museum and what responsibility does the county have for that? The BHS’s Museum and offices are currently housed in a building located adjacent to the courthouse and which is owned by the county. The county currently provides the space and maintenance support services at no cost. There is no contractual agreement between BHS and the county and, therefore, no legal obligations between the parties. The new courthouse construction requires that the building be demolished or relocated. The proposed concept provides for the building to be relocated to the west side of the Old District Court Building within Courthouse Square. This will require BHS’s offices and collections to be relocated or temporarily closed.
- Why not leave the museum building where it is and build around it?
The architecture consultants looked extensively at this option. Building around the museum would require the construction of a four-story courthouse that would not be compatible with surrounding structures and could not duplicate the existing courthouse façade. The floor plans of the building would compromise functionality. Site constraints and measures required to protect the museum building would add costs and additional time.
- Will this affect any historic buildings?
The museum building, noted above, includes the historic James Breckinridge Law Office. It is proposed that the building be relocated within the Courthouse Square. No other historically significant buildings will be directly impacted by the project.
- Will any buildings besides the courthouse be demolished? The Fincastle Community Center building (former Fincastle Firehouse) located on Main Street between the courthouse and US Route 220 will be demolished to make room for new parking. The building currently serves as warehouse space for the county’s Maintenance Department and as a community center. No other buildings are identified for demolition.
- How will this impact the Confederate Veterans’ Monument located in front of the current courthouse?
To prevent damage to the monument, best construction practice indicates that the monument be removed during demolition and construction of the Circuit Courthouse. A citizens’ advisory committee has recommended that the monument be relocated. Architectural Partners considered a new location for the monument within the Courthouse Square area and recommends placing it on the north side of the relocated museum building, adjacent to parking and handicap access.
- Will sustainable design and building features be included in the project?
Yes. Issues of sustainability have been considered in both design and cost estimating as a matter of course. Current building codes, including the Virginia Energy Conservation Act and the Virginia High Performance Building Act (HPBA), prescribe and require ever more stringent standards for building thermal envelopes and energy conservation. All new building systems will be provided and specified with energy efficiency in mind and enhanced by direct digital controls for monitoring and fine-tuning, even remotely. Goals for the new courthouse would further include life cycle assessment, structural design efficiency, water efficiency, materials efficiency, indoor environmental quality enhancement, operations and maintenance optimization, and waste reduction.