Divided City Council Won't Finish Fourth Courtroom
Members vote Tuesday to move to next design stage with an empty shell; more big decisions for project expected later this year.
After a 90-minute work session, a divided City Council decided Tuesday night against completely finishing a second General District courtroom in the 78,000-square-foot courthouse expected to come online in early 2015.
But in another split vote, council members decided to move past the 35-percent design stage to the 65-percent design stage anyway.
Councilwoman Bea Paolucci cast the swing vote.
Council members took straw votes during an earlier work session, but made the votes public during their regular meeting that is televised, at the request of Councilman Matt Kelly.
The new courthouse, which will house both the Circuit and General District courts, will still have four courtrooms, but one will be a shell. This will save about $248,000 that can be used for restoring the Renwick Building, where Circuit Court is held now. Council members Kerry Devine, George Solley and Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw voted against having a shell courtroom; council members Matt Kelly, Fred Howe, Brad Ellis and Paolucci voted for it.
Solley warned that the city's project manager said when council does decide to finish that fourth courtroom, it will cost more than double than it would to do it as part of this project.
Devine said it is shortsighted to backtrack on the design, accusing Councilman Kelly of trying to derail the project.
"I don’t think this discussion was to derail the project, Kerry," Paolucci said.
Council members voted 5-1-1 to keep the maximum ceiling heights on all three floors to 14 feet after the design-build team First Choice said cutting 2 feet off each ceiling would result in significant exterior and interior changes that end up costing more to redesign. Councilman Howe voted "no" and Kelly abstained.
Some council members are looking for ways to trim the cost of the project to put toward the Renwick Building. The city already issued $36.7 million in bonds for the project, and about $32 million is to construct the new courthouse on Princess Anne Street downtown.
This milestone review mark at the 35 percent plan stage was a point for council members to make changes to the plans. But Kelly argued there weren't many opportunities to make significant changes because the design-build team argued on numerous occasions that it would cost more in redesign and contractor fees.
"This whole process has just been absolutely beyond belief to me," Kelly said. "I am not going to participate in this process.”
Council voted 4-3 to move to the next design stage, with Paolucci casting the swing vote beside Solley, Greenlaw and Devine. Howe said he voted the way he did because the city does not have a dedicated funding source to pay for the new courthouse.
Devine said Kelly wrote letters to the editor in 2008, 2010 and in 2011 stating the city needs a new courthouse, but more time is needed to figure out the details.
"It is 2012 and it is really time for us to move ahead and make these decisions," she said.
Ellis said he voted with the minority because the council still doesn't have the full operational costs for the new facility.
Kelly said the courthouse facility is a "big box" and he challenged other council members who supported moving forward with the design to point out anything about it of which they are proud.
"This has never been about the City of Fredericksburg and what's good for downtown," he said. "It has been about what is good for the judges."
What Decisions Are Left?
A majority of council members wants the Renwick Building to be used for something. City Manager Beverly Cameron had recommended turning Renwick into a Council Chamber (in the current Circuit courtroom on the second floor) and the first floor could be office space for city employees. This renovation could cost about $5 million. But Cameron recommended council members discuss this at an Oct. 9 work session and again at its goal-setting retreat later that month.
Council could also choose to keep the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Executive Plaza and save money on the renovation of the General District Courthouse at 615 Princess Anne St. Cameron said this decision also can come later. Renovations to the existing General District Court building would vary in cost from $4.8 million to $2.78 million. This decision directly impacts Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court because it is planned to be located in the existing General District Court building.
City Council will also have to deal with the downtown parking problem, especially when the new courthouse comes online. Cameron said council members can direct staff to identify potential land in the downtown area for a new parking deck. The city has a parking deck on Sophia Street behind Executive Plaza. Cameron said the locations should be prioritized and a strategy to purchase any property should be finished by fiscal year 2014. He recommended council members discuss this at their retreat on Oct. 19 and Oct. 20.
- Howe Promises To Halt Courthouse Design
- Fredericksburg's New Majority To Halt Courthouse Project
- Councilman-Elect Kelly Begins Courthouse Review
- Renwick Can Be Part of Courthouse Project, Parking More Challenging
- Fredericksburg Courthouse Project At Milestone Review Mark
- Fredericksburg Council Has Big Decisions Left On Courthouse