Proposed plan for Augusta County Courthouse at the Government Center Complex.
Monday night, October 3, marked the final town hall meeting hosted by Augusta County supervisors concerning the historic downtown Augusta County Courthouse, and the issue of whether to build a new facility at the Government Center Complex in Verona. (For more information visit the Augusta County website.)
After attending the first town hall meeting at Wilson High School in September, it was good to see that Monday night’s crowd was twice the size of the first, but still only about 60 people were present. This is an issue that has raised passions on both sides, and some attendees became verbally confrontational with supervisors.
Everyone loves the historic 1901 courthouse that is on the National Register of Historic Places with its Scales of Justice on the domed roof. Its place on the national register pretty much assures it will not be razed. Rockbridge County sold their old courthouse to Washington & Lee who made it into offices. Augusta County’s old courthouse would be perfect for a museum, historic society offices, or an art gallery. But it is no longer suitable for conducting business in today’s court system on a number of levels — safety, security, space limitations, no parking, no handicap parking, limited handicap access, building separated by a main city street, and other issues of concern.
In the end, it is the county’s decision. Not Staunton. Not the lawyers who have offices downtown. It is entirely the decision of the residents of Augusta County as to what to do with their courthouse.
If you missed Monday’s meeting, you missed an informational presentation by county administrator Tim Fitzgerald, Clerk of Court Carol Brydge, Sheriff Donald Smith, and five of the seven supervisors — Chairman Carolyn Bragg (South River District), Gerald Garber (Middle River District), Terry Kelley (Beverley Manor District), Mike Shull (Riverheads District), and my supervisor Tracy Pyles (Pastures District). Six of the supervisors are in favor of moving the courthouse. Only one is against.
Outside groups have interjected their thoughts and opinions, running an online “just say no to moving the courthouse” petition, or pointing out the historic qualities of the building. It’s interesting how many do not completely understand the deeper issues surrounding the courthouse.
Augusta County has spent millions on repairs the past 25 years. Indeed, this became a front-burner issue when county residents were facing another $12.5 million band aid on a building that is no longer viable for today’s court needs.
Four years ago, after county supervisors started looking into a new facility, lawyers from Staunton began showing up at supervisor meetings to protest the possibility of Augusta finally consolidating the county courts from downtown Staunton to the Government Center complex.
The complex, located in Verona on the former Smith Trucking Company property — a sprawling building with offices, docks, and a twenty-acre paved parking area that was used for tractor-trailers to load and unload freight — is centrally located and now known as the Augusta County Government Center. It has transformed over the past 25 years into a bustling nucleus of county government and community activities.
When the Smith Trucking complex was purchased by the county, the plan was to consolidate all services at the one location for the convenience of Augusta County residents — school offices, parks and recreation, county officials’ offices, human resources, animal control, treasurer, building inspectors, registrar, senior services, and more. The sheriff’s office is adjoining the property as is the regional jail. Over the past 25 years, everything has been relocated to Verona except the courts.
The referendum question will be on the November 8, 2016, ballot. The question asks:
Shall the courthouse of Augusta County be removed to the Augusta County Government Center Complex in Verona, Virginia, and shall the Board of Supervisors be permitted to spend $45,000,000 therefore?
[ ] YES [ ] NO
Visit the courthouse on Saturday, October 22, from 10am-2pm for a tour of the two current courthouses, the Circuit Courthouse and District Courts Building located on opposite sides of the street, to see conditions of the facilities. If moved to Verona, all three courts and court functions would be located in one building. Courts include Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Domestic Relations. Court functions include Clerk’s Offices, Commonwealth Attorney, Victim Witness, Court Services Unit, Magistrate, and Court Security.
Contact your supervisor to ask questions.
Visit the Augusta County website for information.
Over the next several weeks I will be writing more about the reasons for moving the courthouse. Augusta County is looking at the next 75 years.
If residents vote down the referendum, by state law another referendum cannot be held for ten years. Because of the deplorable condition of the old courthouse, a new one will most likely be built anyway because the old building cannot be brought up to the standards necessary to meet the minimum needs put forth by the Virginia Court System. The decision, therefore, is whether it will be in Verona, or on new property that will need to be purchased in Staunton. It will not remain in the old courthouse.
Be sure to read what happened in neighboring Rockbridge County when they voted down a new courthouse but were forced by the courts to build a new one.
As a county resident who actually has a vote on this issue, it has been discouraging to hear those outside the county — some from across the Commonwealth with basically no knowledge of the real issues — trying to influence the decision.
Thank you to the supervisors, staff, and courthouse employees for their research and infinite hours of meetings and talking with residents as this issue moves forward. These hard-working public servants arrived at Fort Defiance High School Monday night at 6:00 to prepare for the 7pm meeting, then held the two hour-plus meeting, and when I left a 9:30 they were still talking with residents who had questions.
Bottom line: This is Augusta County’s decision. For the future of the county, vote YES.
- There’s More to the Courthouse Issue Than Many Realize
- Augusta County Courthouse Moving Forward, Staunton Counters
- Augusta Supervisors to Discuss Future Courthouse Options by Bob Stuart
- Rockbridge Redux? Courthouse Move the Right Way to Go by Tracy Pyles
- In advance of vote, Augusta County starts courthouse tours by Bob Stuart