Albemarle County Initiates Exploration of Private/Public Partnership for Courts Project

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Albemarle County continues to consider moving its courthouses away from Charlottesville's Court Square. And soon, the public will have a chance to weigh in on the matter.

The county announced on Thursday, August 3, that it has a contract with Stantec to help look into moving Albemarle General District Court, Albemarle Circuit Court, and or the Albemarle County Administrative Office – which occupies the former Lane High School building on McIntire Road - out of the city.

Stantec had been selected to work with the county back in the spring, and is the same company that worked with Charlottesville on the design and development for a skate park back in 2014. The company is also working on the city’s master plan for Friendship Court.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 back on November 2, 2016, to explore partnership possibilities, with the goal of keeping costs down, while also looking at potential investment into a new community and commercial hub in the county.

Supervisors are trying to plan long-term for the courts needs and invest appropriately over the next several years.

Albemarle County has set aside nearly $40 million of its Capital Improvement Program budget for this project. The county had five different options on the table, but right now only two are being explored:

  • Renovating the former Levy Opera House across from Court Square, demolishing the surrounding buildings and putting up a new three-story general district court on the site, which would be shared with the city. That plan also includes renovating the current circuit court complex. Estimated cost: $39.7 million
  • Building a new courts complex in the county that would provide its own parking, which is one of the issues with the downtown location. Estimated cost: $30.9 million

“Right now the Rio 29 area is one that were looking at particularly closely because of all the work that's being done there with the small area plan and some other kinds of initiatives, but a definitive location has not been established,” said Assistant Albemarle County Executive Lee Catlin.

The three other options are:

  • Moving Albemarle General District Court into the Albemarle County Office Building, and sharing the facility with Charlottesville. However, the city currently does not support this plan. The county would have to invest in a new administration building. Estimated cost: $37.7 million
  • Moving both county courts into the Albemarle County Office Building. Again, the county would have to invest in a new administration building. Estimated cost: $32.85 million.
  • Moving Albemarle General District Court into the Albemarle County Office Building. Estimated cost: $27 million

“The option for keeping the courts downtown has not been officially taken off the table, but the Board of Supervisors has decided to pause on that option until we have a chance to fully explore the possibility of a public-private partnership and that investment going into one of the development areas of the county,” Catlin said.

A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes since the spring to research those potential public-private partnerships, if a new court facility were to be built.

Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci released the following statement:

The Board of Supervisors appears determined to ignore the near unanimous opposition of the criminal justice community to dismembering Historic Court Square. 

This community includes Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins, Albemarle and Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorneys, clerks of court, sheriff’s offices, the public defender, Offender Aid and Restoration, Legal Aid Justice Center, and others. These views have been clearly and repeatedly expressed, and have not changed. The Board of Supervisors appears determined to ignore these views in favor of speculative and unproven claims of economic development that may undermine judicial efficiency and the timely administration of justice upon which our citizens depend.

The project team will be asking for the public's input through a survey in the next few weeks.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors is expected to make its final decision on the project by the end of this year or early next year.

Release from Albemarle County:

Albemarle County has contracted with Stantec to provide technical assistance with the exploration of a public/private partnership to relocate the Circuit and General District courts and/or County Administrative Office to a site in Albemarle County.

The County Board of Supervisors provided direction for this effort in a resolution adopted in November 2016, which directed county staff to explore and pursue partnership possibilities that deliver the most cost efficient economic benefit while preserving accessible court facilities by relocating either court facilities and/or county administration offices to an urban area in the county.

The resolution outlined justifications for exploring partnership possibilities, including:

  • Potential for significant savings in project costs and debt service 
  • Opportunity for investment of capital funding into urban development and revitalization to expand the county’s commercial and industrial tax base, a goal that has been identified as one of the board’s highest priorities in the recently endorsed FY17 – 19 Strategic Plan
  • Prospect for establishing a new community focal point/catalyst and commercial hub that fully benefits the residents of the county in the most cost efficient manner

After an initial stage of reviewing materials, the project team is entering a more public phase of work including engagement with court system stakeholders and the release of a public survey in mid August. For more information, including project background, current options, major milestones and supporting documents, visit www.albemarle.org/courts.

Albemarle County has been actively engaged for a number of years in determining the best option to address the challenges facing the county’s courts and to identify opportunities to improve infrastructure and the efficiency of court operations, while providing the best current and future value for county taxpayers.

Any option to address the long-term needs of the Albemarle County courts will involve one of the most significant capital investments that the county anticipates over the next five to seven years.

The Board of Supervisors has indicated a strong desire to understand the full cost implications and functional impacts associated with the project to ensure a prudent long-term investment that will meet community needs and benefit county taxpayers.

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