Thank you for visiting this site to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing the Washington County Courthouse.
If you have visited the courthouse in the last few years, you know that it is a busy place. You may have had trouble finding a parking spot, waited in line for security or been confused about the location of offices. You probably also noticed that space in hallways, meeting rooms and offices is tight.
This is because our courthouse, which was built in 1868, was not designed to handle the current amount of activity taking place in the county each business day. While space limitations have posed a concern for many years, the level of staffing and activity has now reached a point where the current structure can no longer serve its purpose in a responsible manner.
Our community has some decisions to make in the coming weeks and months, and because the courthouse and its functions impact us all, we want to make them together.
This site includes relevant facts and figures, an outline of our current concerns, details regarding three potential solutions and a calendar of events. Once you’ve read through the information, please share your questions and ideas through our contact form or by contacting your board of supervisors representatives.
This matter may require a public referendum this November. If so, please note that the board of supervisors is legally required to finalize the referendum language well ahead of time. Only one of the three available courthouse solutions can be included on the referendum, so residents who want to voice their opinion on which option to choose should do so before the end of July.
We look forward to hearing from area residents and seeing you at upcoming district meetings as we discuss the future of our county courthouse.
Your input is critical to this process, and we are ready to hear from you.
Submit Your Thoughts
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s inside the Washington County Courthouse?
There are a number of offices inside our courthouse, including those that handle marriage licenses, real estate purchase and transfer, conceal carry permits, property taxes, the payment of parking/traffic tickets and more. As the seat of the 28th Judicial District, the courthouse also hosts the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, General District Court, Circuit Court and Juvenile Court.
What’s wrong with the courthouse?
The building itself has been cared for and is sound. It is, however, more than 150 years old and has had several additions built onto it. The current structure is actually four separate buildings that have been cobbled together and renovated over time.
The four buildings all have their own separate foundations, each of which has its own elevation on the hill. As you can imagine, this creates an issue when traveling between them — visitors must go up and down steps and take different elevators to access different floors. The courthouse was also never designed to host common amenities such as elevators, HVAC systems, or the infrastructure needed to support IT networks. These systems have been installed as needed, but space is at a premium, and caring for different buildings with varying requirements and maintaining these systems can be difficult.
You say the courthouse needs to expand or move. Why now?
The concerns facing the courthouse are not new. Administrators have been studying the issue for years, trying to find efficient, cost-effective, long-term solutions.
The issue is coming before the community now because of a recent, steady increase in the caseload of our courts. It is not uncommon for the General District Court, one of three courts in the building, to see as many as 400 cases a day, and the court’s schedule is currently booked through the spring of 2020.
The commonwealth of Virginia has appointed two new judges to the county seat to help oversee the caseload. These judges began their appointments on July 1, 2019.
In a building where space and parking are already in high demand, this has created a tipping point.
What are the specific challenges facing the courthouse?
There are a few. These include:
Our courthouse has 47,000 square feet of available space. According to a 2016 needs assessment performed by Thompson & Litton, we need 88,000 square feet — nearly twice the current amount.
The demand for space, combined with the piecemeal nature of the structure, means that some departments are spread across multiple floors of the building. Visitors must often visit more than one office, in more than one area of the building, to conduct business.
Space limitations also mean that some employees are forced to use hallways and traffic areas as offices, waiting rooms and jury areas are crowded, and the same corridors and parking areas used by judges and staff are needed to transition inmates in and out of the facility.
Parking is also in demand. An average of 420 people come to the courthouse each weekday, including 77 employees and 343 visitors. The courthouse’s existing parking lot houses 75 spots, two spaces short of what is needed for employees alone.
Parking on the streets around the courthouse is restricted to a two-hour stay. This poses an issue for area residents who are serving on juries, meeting with courthouse representatives or attending court.
Despite our best efforts, some citizens may have difficulty getting into and around the courthouse. Because the facility is made up of four separate structures built and renovated over the course of 150-plus years, it houses multiple foundation heights, narrow hallways, staircases and elevators that may or may not access certain floors. This makes transitioning into and through the facility more challenging than it should be, especially for those in wheelchairs, who must use a series of ramps and lifts to access jury areas, courtrooms and ADA-compliant restrooms.
As the seat of the 28th Judicial District, our courthouse holds the offices of the appointed Chief Judge and serves residents of Washington County. Law enforcement officials are tasked with maintaining an orderly and timely traffic flow through three separate courts, each of which has varying security requirements.
All visitors must go through a security check at the main entrance. Because of the space crunch, this often means the waiting line stretches out the main doors and into the courtyard. There is no covered area for visitors to wait outside, and once they pass the security check, no general gathering area inside.
The courthouse also has logistical issues when it comes to secure areas. As mentioned, inmates, judges and staff are often required to use the same parking areas and hallways to transition in and out of the facility. Additionally, due to its limitations, the courthouse is not suitable for other security precautions and safety equipment that are considered standard and necessary.
How do we fix this?
This is a question that county representatives have studied for several years. After much discussion and evaluation, there are three main options under consideration.
- Build a new courthouse
- Renovate a portion of the current facility and later construct a new courthouse
- Adapt an existing building to serve the community’s needs