Return to story

Council looks at five courts options

March 16, 2011 12:00 am

Chelyen Davis
It would cost Fredericksburg about $35 to $40 million to build a new courthouse downtown, according to estimates from five different design–build firms.

The firms made presentations to City Council on Tuesday night and last night.

Council has been talking about a new courthouse for years, pushed by judges who say the city needs a more modern facility that meets security needs and can accommodate growing caseloads.

But council members past and present don’t all agree on whether a new courts building is needed, nor whether the city can afford it.

The proposals this week are a step toward committing to build a new courthouse, although it’s just one step.

The city hopes to have a public hearing on the proposals in early April, and then winnow down the proposals to a smaller number.

All the groups presented courthouse designs that “stack” courtrooms for efficiency and safety, and route public traffic through security entrances. Stacking means that if, say, there are two General District courtrooms on one floor, there are two Circuit Court courtrooms directly above them on the next floor. That allows for a central holding room between the courtrooms and central elevators to move detainees so they don’t come in contact with the public.

All of the designs also have separated areas for the public, detainees and judges.

Several of the proposals would put the courthouse on Princess Anne Street, while others would use the current fire station site and move the fire station to another location. Some create one large courthouse complex, while others put the Juvenile and Domestic Relations court in an adjacent building.

Most of the design firms included proposals to renovate the Renwick building and other existing courts buildings, either for court use or for other city office use.

Last night, council heard presentations from W.M. Jordan Company, with Wiley/Wilson Architects.

Their proposal focused on a location at Princess Anne Street, where they’d build two new buildings and renovate the Renwick building.

The W.M. Jordan group w

ould put the circuit court in one building, and the general District and J&D courts in the other, choosing two smaller buildings over one larger one to better fit into the scale of neighboring buildings. They designed the buildings with vaulted roofs and gables to reflect early American judicial architecture.

However, unusual for the proposals, it also includes a vegetative roof on one of the buildings. That’s part of “go green” initiatives and would help maintain green space in the area, the group said, although it isn’t envisioned as a public area.

The W.M. Jordan group’s plan also included money to upgrade the Executive Plaza building.

The W.M Jordan proposal would cost $32.6 million and take about 31 months.

Also presenting last night were Donley’s and their partners.

They proposed three sites —the fire station site, the Executive Plaza site and a new one on Sophia Street.

The Sophia Street location, by Wolfe Street, would require buying existing property there, something Donley’s said they’ve already secured options to do. That building would have river views.

Donley’s also said it has several developers interested in renovating the Executive Plaza into a mixed-use building of retail and condos.

On Tuesday night, the council heard from Hensel Phelps Construction and its partner companies; FirstChoice Public–Private partners; and Clancy and Theys Construction and their partners.

The Hensel Phelps proposal would put the courthouse where Executive Plaza is now. It would include all three court systems, with five courtrooms and space for three more in the future, if necessary.

Their architecture sought to mimic the frontage of buildings on Caroline Street, breaking up the façade instead of having one large wall facing the street.

FirstChoice offered proposals at two locations, one where the fire station is now and one on Princess Anne Street where the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is now. The Princess Anne option would have the courts located in two different buildings, connected by a tunnel. The fire station location requires building a new fire station, and FirstChoice has an option on a location near The Free Lance–Star on Amelia Street.

The FirstChoice architecture seeks to imitate iconic courthouses of the past by utilizing cupolas, brickwork and columns.

The Clancy and Theys proposal focused on the fire station location, moving the fire station to the old regional jail site. Their building had large glass walls to bring in more natural light.

Council members asked all five groups if they agree with a 2007 report done by Moseley Architects that showed caseloads will continue to grow rapidly, necessitating new courtroom space.

Most said yes, although Donley’s did their own study, which found that the growth is progressing faster than the Moseley report predicted.

All of the proposals contain at least five courtrooms, and several contain options to build new courtrooms as needed.

The five proposals are expected to be on the city’s website next week. The city will take comment at a public hearing, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, and also via e–mail at courthousepropo salcomments@fredericks

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028


Proposed new courthouse location: Executive Plaza (tear down existing building, build a new one) Cost: $40 million Timeframe: 25 months (July 2013)


Proposed locations (two): Princess Anne Street next to City Hall, or current fire station location. The Princess Anne location would see renovation of existing General District court building to house Juvenile and Domestic Relations, while General District and Circuit courts move into a new building. Cost: $36 million Time: 30 months The fire station location would also move General District and Circuit courts into a new building, but it would take longer because a new fire station would first have to be built. FirstChoice proposes to build a new fire station on Amelia St. Cost: $41 million Time: 36 months


Proposed location: current fire station, moving fire station to old regional jail site. Cost: About $31 million, not including firehouse construction, estimated at about $5 to $6 million Time: 33 months


Proposed location: Princess Anne Street, two buildings Cost: $32.6 million, including money for temporary relocation of courts Time: 31 months


Proposed locations: Fire station, Executive Plaza or Sophia Street Time: 36 months for Sophia Street 37 months for the Executive Plaza 44 months for the fire station Cost: About $34 million

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.