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Council to weigh courthouse plans

April 17, 2011 12:15 am


The Fredericksburg City Council went behind closed doors last week to discuss the convoluted courthouse complex project, but the public will soon get a chance to weigh in on the multimillion-dollar proposal.

A public hearing is slated for 7 p.m. May 17 at City Hall.

After that, the council will reconvene and evaluate the proposals, said Beverly Cameron, Fredericksburg city manager. He said the council then will whittle down the candidates and move to the next phase, in which the remaining firms will produce more detailed proposals.

Five design firms have provided eight proposals for the courthouse complex, which could cost as much as $40 million.

Cameron said the council also will conduct more work sessions, and likely additional closed sessions, before choosing the winning proposal. That might happen by late summer or early fall, he said.

The council was split over going into a closed session on Tuesday to discuss a consultant's report on the proposed courthouse project, but nonetheless voted to do so.

During a work session prior to the monthly meeting, council members Fred Howe III, Brad Ellis and Beatrice Paolucci voted against going into closed session to discuss the proposals.

They noted that the process thus far had been open, including cost estimates of the work, and wondered why talks had to suddenly be moved behind closed doors.

"This document is a taxpayer-paid-for document," Howe said. "At the end of the day, this is a public process."

If the closed session covered the entire report, it "would send a concerning message to the public," Ellis said.

For years the issue of building a new courthouse complex has been floated around different councils, and judges have pushed for it, saying Fredericksburg needs a more modern facility that meets security needs and can accommodate growing caseloads.

This council has gotten serious about the project, and heard proposals from the five firms last month.

The consultant's report on the proposals was compiled by Arcadis. Council members were given the report just recently, and some of them said they weren't able to give it a close reading prior to Tuesday.

During the work session, Mayor Tom Tomzak, Vice Mayor Mary Greenlaw and Council members Kerry Devine and George Solley voted to go into closed session, citing confidentiality and the desire for the city to maintain a competitive balance in the bidding process.

Solley said he didn't understand how the closed session could be construed as a way to keep information from the public.

City Attorney Kathleen Dooley said the important project details to be covered in the closed session would eventually become public.

Greenlaw said the closed session would allow the council to be better informed of all the details.

The process has become politicized, Tomzak said. "I've already seen email lobbying in this." The mayor said he had hoped to avoid that.

The five firms have proposed various options for the courthouse project, which would be the most expensive construction project in the city's history.

Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

Hensel Phelps has proposed a new courthouse location: the site of Executive Plaza, which would involve razing the existing building and constructing a new courthouse. COST: $40 million TIME FRAME: 25 months

FirstChoice has proposed two possible locations: Princess Anne Street next to City Hall, or the current fire station site.

1. The Princess Anne location would include renovation of the existing General District Court building to house Juvenile and Domestic Relations, while the General District and Circuit courts would move into a new building.

COST: $36 million TIME FRAME: 30 months

2. Using the fire station site would also move the 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. This proposal includes a new fire station on Amelia Street.

COST: $41 million TIME FRAME: 36 months

Clancy and Theys has proposed using the fire station site and moving the fire station to the former regional jail site.

COST: About $31 million, not including firehouse construction, estimated at about $5 million to $6 million TIME FRAME: 33 months

W.M. Jordan has proposed constructing two new buildings on Princess Anne Street where the General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courthouses stand, and renovating the Circuit Courthouse.

COST: $32.6 million, including money for temporary relocation of courts TIME FRAME: 31 months

Donley's has proposed three locations: the fire station site, Executive Plaza or on Sophia Street next to Wolfe Street.

COST: About $34 million TIME FRAME: 36 months for Sophia Street; 37 months for Executive Plaza; 44 months for the fire station site

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