Councilman-elect Matt Kelly, who will join Fredericksburg City Council in July, has spent the past 45 days reviewing the city's $35 million courthouse project and getting answers to questions that might open doors to save money or make changes to the plans.
On his Facebook page, Kelly said he met with the design-build team First Choice, Mayor-elect Mary Katherine Greenlaw and staff. A synopsis of the questions and answers are posted below. Kelly also found out that it cost about $7.2 million a year to operate all functions of the courts and jail, and the amount does not include the increase in debt service to $2 million starting next year and additional operating costs once the project is finished.
"Amazingly, the operational costs for the new court facility are only now being discussed," Kelly said in an email. "This is almost 10 percent of the city budget."
First Choice's proposal is for a three-story, 78,500 square-foot, $35 million courts building, constructed next to City Hall on the site of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court at Princess Anne and Charlotte streets.
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court is already being temporarily relocated to the Executive Plaza. General District Court would be part of the new building and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court would be relocated again back into the current General District Court building. The Renwick Building, where Circuit Court is held now, would be vacant. The city has already issued the bonds for the project.
Kelly said the next stop is: How does City Council proceed with this project?When he takes office in July, he will form a new four-member majority with council members Brad Ellis, Fred Howe and Bea Paolucci who want to re-examine the scope of the courthouse project.
Council members have a special worksession on Tuesday to discuss the courthouse project. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of city hall.
How was space allotted to each function in the court determined?
Virginia Court Facility Guidelines and case load projections. It was acknowledged that caseload projections are subject to a number of variables. Looking beyond five years out and the unreliability of case load projections (or anything else for that matter) increase. In evaluating caseloads the feds do not go beyond 10 years.
The GSA in the construction of public building, including courts, has been reevaluating and reducing space needs. What efforts have been made to incorporate this thinking into this project?
See # 2. It was agreed that there could be discussions on space reductions. Questions were raised by the design team as to whether such reductions would result in any cost savings.
Court design now looks at shared court space and smaller court rooms. Why has this not been considered in the current design?
Such changes can be considered but a concern was expressed as to whether judges would be amenable to considering these options.
I’ve been advised that in the next 10-years or so, courts in Virginia will be paperless. Are the tech plans for this facility taking into consideration advances in technology?
Not knowing when, or if, specific changes will be made in court procedures/process related to technology, the design of the court complex is based on current procedures/processes.
How can technology be used to affect space usage? Has this been discussed/incorporated into this project?
See # 2 and #5.
Is the equipment and space available for video conferencing? How much security/support will be in place for computer storage and security?
The infrastructure to support video conferencing will be incorporated but no spaces are designated . First Choice could not comment directly on security systems and issues.
Are tech improvements in lighting, plumbing HVAC being incorporated into this project?
Complex will be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certifiable. Back-up power system will be in place to handle security and basic systems but not sustain daily operations. Heating and cooling will be set up in zones allowing variable settings but the zones will not be self-sustained.
Cost/space savings moving Sheriff to General District Court building?
This can be done but there are questions regarding possible savings and minimal impact on the size of the court building due to small amount of space involved—only about 2 percent of the entire space. Also discussed digitizing court records as another way to save space.
Can Renwick building be renovated to continue to serve a court function?
Yes it can but it would require exterior modifications which may not be acceptable preservation community. First Choice did suggest using Renwick for only civil cases which would eliminate need for sally ports, holding areas, etc. It was noted that the judges may not be amenable to such an option and it is counter to the goal of consolidation.
What are the projected parking needs for the current facility?
In a memorandum to council on 7/22/2011 staff referred to a number of studies done on parking needs for the court complex. The report noted no increase in parking demand from 2014 to 2030. The peak parking need is 434 and the low is 415. To meet this need the plan is to continue to use off-street parking—242 spaces, and augment it by taking up from 173 to 192 spaces in the Sophia Street parking garage.
Can there be involvement of outside groups, HFFI and ARB in exterior design process?
First Choice is prepared to work with any groups on the design subject to city approval.
Taking the courts needs issue off the table in your professional opinion what size structure is appropriate for the current site?
First Choice believes current plan is appropriate for the site.
Questions to staff:
Has the city received confirmation that First Choice is not currently spending money of the courthouse design?
Response: The City has not issued a stop work order under Article 15 a. of the Comprehensive Agreement. Thus, not all design work has ceased. However, design of the new courthouse has reached the milestone of 35% Design Development (reference Article 11 b.), and this step represents a natural temporary pause in design work pending review and approval by the Owner.
Exactly how much has been spent on the design of the new court facility to date?
Response: Moseley Design costs through June 1 = $782,000; English Construction fees and bond related to new courthouse = $446,000 (would not be a sunk cost if project is re-scoped ; Verizon, Dominion Virginia Power, Columbia Gas design costs = To Be Determined
Can we get some indication from bond counsel regarding flexibility in use of the bond funds? Can they be used for Renwick renovation if a court use is maintained or for other uses? Can they be used for a parking facility so that the courts do not overwhelm visitor parking downtown? Can the funds be used for digitizing court records to save on storage space in the new facility?
Response: In the opinion of bond counsel, court facility bonds issued late last year: May be expended on renovations of the Renwick Circuit Courthouse (the November 22, 2011 bonds authorizing resolution (the “bond ordinance”) included “renovation of existing court facilities” in the definition of Project), May be expended on technology equipment for use in the new courthouse (the bond ordinance included “equipping costs” of the new courthouse), and May be expended on replacement of HVAC equipment in existing court buildings (the bond ordinance included “renovation of existing court facilities” and even if a full renovation is not undertaken, replacing the HVAC itself seems to be renovation – also note that “equipping costs” apply not only to the new courthouse but also to existing court facilities), it seems to me that renovation or equipping can apply to such types of capital expenditures in the near term, say over the next year or 18 months or so, but not for a reserve established to pick up future ongoing capital upkeep or replacement generally beyond such near term. On its face “a parking garage” does not seem to fit the definition of Project, unless perhaps if it were a parking garage with a clear nexus to court facilities – e.g., part of, or proximate to, court facilities that provides parking for (perhaps among other things) court activities – parking reserved for judges or other court staff and available and advertised or promoted for use of other users of court facilities.
If we do not use all the bond funds what are the options for the balance?
Response: Proceeds of the bonds may be used for interest on the bonds during construction, and perhaps for a limited period thereafter. Unanticipated excess proceeds may be used to redeem or pay down the outstanding principal amount of the bonds in advance of their scheduled payment or maturity (but, I note that common to the municipal bond market, the bonds have an initial “no-call” period and are not callable for redemption until July 15, 2020, thus would have to be invested until that date and current interest rates are less than the yield on the bonds – 3.2729% -- so would entail an economic “negative arbitrage” cost). Such excess proceeds also may be available to purchase bonds in the secondary market and retire or cancel them (I suspect this also may be uneconomic, but that is not a legal matter, a financial advisor could confirm or correct such suspicion).
Can we get a definitive answer as to whether significant changes to the court plans require re-bidding the project?
Response: The Comprehensive Agreement provides broad flexibility to modify the project without re-bidding. A definitive answer can only be provided when the scope of the proposed project modification is known.
Can we get a definitive answer as to the impact on changing the court plans on the First Choice contract?
Response: If this question relates primarily to cost, the Comprehensive Agreement provides a mechanism for cost adjustments, both as regards design and construction services. Definitive answers about cost impacts can be developed when we know how the project will be modified.