ABINGDON, Va. — The Washington County Board of Supervisors made its first review Tuesday of a proposed purchase agreement to buy a portion of the Towne Center Shopping Center in Abingdon — the former Kmart — to be used as a county courthouse.
But, ultimately, the board decided to table any decisions on the move for at least two weeks.
For years, the supervisors have studied how to solve space issues at the historic Washington County Courthouse, which has been at the center of Abingdon on Main Street since 1869.
That building has undergone additions and renovations, most recently about 30 years ago.
But it remains too small for current court functions, Circuit Court Judge Sage Johnson told the Board of Supervisors.
“It becomes clear to the court that we do need space,” Johnson said. “We’re at a point now that we just don’t have any room to grow. ... We don’t have any parking.”
Kevin Hill, the county’s director of general services, outlined three options:
» Expand the current courthouse at a cost of about $14 million;
» Build a new courthouse at a price tag of $33 million;
» Renovate the former Kmart and turn it into a county courthouse for $25 million.
Roland Kooch, representing the county’s financial advisor, Davenport & Co., said buying the Kmart building and reusing it as a courthouse makes the most financial sense.
“Personally, I think this is the best business decision for the county,” Hill said.
The historic courthouse contains about 47,000 square feet, but the county needs about 88,000 square feet, county officials said.
Any renovation of the current courthouse would also not provide enough room, Hill said.
“You’re still going to have a structure in need of renovations at the courthouse,” Johnson said. “We’re at a point now that we need to do something. … There’s not an easy answer.”
Security issues, for one, have been important considerations, said Board Chairman Saul Hernandez.
“This is something that we just have to do,” Hernandez said. “And we have to figure it out.”
County Attorney Lucy Phillips told the board that if the county does not make improvements at the current court facility, it may be forced by the state Supreme Court to make a move — or make any improvements deemed necessary by state officials.
Moving the court’s location would require a referendum, which could be held as early as November, said County Administrator Jason Berry.
“The referendum is something that’s prescribed by state law very tightly,” Phillips said.
If the referendum does not pass, the county would not be allowed to hold another referendum on this subject for another 10 years, Phillips said.
On Tuesday, the board agreed unanimously to hire The Corporate Image — at a cost of $57,000 — to wage a public relations and education campaign concerning the courthouse.
The public relations firm, according to Berry, should begin immediately to set up plans to stage town hall meetings to share information and collect public opinion on the need for a larger courthouse facility.