Norfolk Consolidated Courthouse

15 04 2009

I attended my civic league meeting last night. Aside from listening to our Civic League President spout off ReEnergy propaganda, we got to hear a presentation by Mr George Schaefer, Norfolk’s Circuit Court Clerk. He gave his presentation on the proposed Norfolk Consolidated Courthouse Complex. Not only was he very informative, I think that anybody listening to him would support the new Complex.

First, he addressed the need for a new Courthouse. The main reasons are:

  1. The current structures are out-dated: When they were constructed, the closest thing to a computer took up the same room as a courtroom. Each building has been retrofit with semi-modern computer systems, but they are nowhere near what should be in there. Then you have things like elevators, which are required for accessibility by disabled persons. Mr. Schaefer’s building has two elevators which were put in at different times. The newer one broke down last year. Well, it actually burned up, requiring fire department assistance. When they looked for repairs, they found that only one company in the state could fix it and they had a six-month backlog. While waiting for their elevator to be fixed, they had to accommodate every disabled person that needed help. Recently, their second elevator broke down. Come to find out, they do not make the parts anymore. Being as thrifty as possible, city maintenance realized that the elevator is the same model as is located in the now-defunct Kirn Memorial Library. In order to fix the Circuit Court elevator, they will cannibalize the Kirn elevators.
  2. Lack of Space: The Courts currently store files in filing cabinets in the public hallways. Recently, Juvenile/Domestic Relations Court got an additional judge and another courtroom. Without actually expanding, their only option was to turn the waiting room into a courtroom. Nearly every Court has rented space outside of the current court buildings, costing the city thousands of dollars a month.
  3. Security: Every new courthouse has a direct connection from the jail to the court. This connection is secure and isolated, eliminating the chance of an escape and minimizing defendant contact with prosecutors, judges, and victims. In Norfolk, however, defendants are brought right through the main hallway into General District Court, allowing them to get close to prosecutors, judges and victims. For Circuit Court, defendants must be transported via Sheriff’s Office vans from the jail to the Circuit Court building. There have been multiple escape attempts since the van does not have a secure entrance into the building, but rather pull right up to the door. Also, once again, everybody shares the same hallway inside. Please click on the image below for a larger version, showing how prisoners are taken into the Circuit Court building.
Circuit Court

Circuit Court

Both the General District Court and the Circuit Court buildings were built with a 30-year lifespan in mind. The General District Court is now nearly 45 years old and the Circuit Court is nearly 40 years old. When a building gets to be this old, the maintenance costs increase exponentially. People wonder why age really matters on a building as long as they take care of it. I have heard people say that their houses are older but do not need replacement. I understand. My house was built in 1920 and is 89 years old. My house also does not get 200,000 visitors a year. The General District Court Building does. That many people are going to wear out whatever they visit.

Now, since we hopefully have establish need, we move to cost and funding. Mr. Schaefer reported that the cost has risen approximately $8 million a year since it was first proposed. In other words, for every year we wait, we might as well burn $8 million. There is also a new law in Virginia that was passed last session at the request of Norfolk. It allows any city whose court did not meet requirements as of January 1st of 2009, to charge a $4 fee to every person the comes before the court. Basically this law applies only to Norfolk and Portsmouth and would raise over $1 million a year. This doesn’t sound like much , but when you consider the new courthouse would have a 50-year lifespan, this would raise $50 million over the lifetime of the court complex. Then factor in the rent the city will save by moving outside offices back into the complex. Right now the Courts and the Sheriff’s office rents quite a but of office space in adjacent buildings downtown. They have offices on Main St. and Plume St. as well as in Dominion Tower. Norfolk has a Public Law Library in Dominion Tower, which would also be moved to complex.

A Consolidated Court Complex is desperately needed Downtown. It is needed now.




2 responses

15 04 2009

I definately agree that as Downtown is becoming a booming metropolis, we must not forget to upgrade our public facilities, especially when the safety of our citizens is at stake. Oh and please let us know how the city council meeting went and the latest on the 2020 plan. && I’m sure you have already seen it, but just in case has the update to the 2020 plan with a in depth pattern book. Downtown will be enormous and beautiful in a few years. Lets go Norfolk! šŸ™‚

15 04 2009
Russell Manning

The City Council meeting actually went well. The Mayor invited myself and another UCAC member to assist on future transit plans. I also learned the real reason why SPSA rejected ReEnergy’s bid for the whole company. The 2020 plan was approved. There was also a visiting youth choir from Norfolk County, England that sang us a song. It was the Cantabile Youth Choir from West Norfolk, GB.

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