On the road to a better Boulevard
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 21, 2013, 10:13
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson After years of debate and controversy, the new Colonial Heights courthouse is under construction. The 40,000 square foot building is currently on schedule for completion in September.
The city of Colonial Heights will be seeing some new additions in the coming months, starting with a new courthouse set to open in September of this year.
“It’s going to be huge,” Colonial Heights City Manager Thomas Mattis said. “This is literally the biggest building, both in cost and size, that the city of Colonial Heights has ever built.”
To fund the project, the cost of which currently stands at just over $20 million, the city had to increase taxes and issue debt. The city raised property tax $0.03 and raised the food tax a percentage point to 11 percent.
At 40,000 square feet, the new courthouse will be more than double the size of the 16,000 square foot courthouse the city uses now.
The will house three courtrooms, as opposed to the two located in the current building, as well as offices for the Sheriff’s Department, community corrections, clerk of courts and the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
The increase in size was considered necessary.
“The environment in courtrooms around 1965 was dramatically different than what it is today,” Mattis said, noting that many public facilities, including schools, are now putting much more thought into appropriate security measures. “...When you’re talking about the jail and holding prisoners and transporting prisoners and the safety of the judges themselves, things like that, the current courthouse is way behind the times that way.”
When the city broke ground on the building, it was putting to bed a lengthy dispute about the property, where the old Colonial Heights Baptist Church once stood, and the need for a new court house. Mattis said there was a 12 year argument between the judiciary and city council concerning the need for a courthouse. Judges noted the need for an increase in security measures and an additional court room to handle case load.
“I think its really important, and important for our future as far as just the basic services we receive out of that building,” Mattis said. “...I think the fact that we made a conscious decision to build a building that’s way above the minimum that we had to build to make an aesthetically pleasing kind of landmark building for the community.”
After the debate and the demolition of the church, the groundbreaking was held in May, 2012. During the ceremony, Judge Herbert Cogbill Gill, Jr. with the 12th District, Colonial Heights Circuit Court, applauded the city and Mattis for getting things started.
“Tom has cracked the whip and kept this thing going,” Gill said.
Mattis said it is still hard to believe that the building is going to open this year.
“Between talking about it and all that and now it’s suddenly becoming a reality we’re going to open this year,” Mattis said. “In fact, we’re going to be talking to council pretty soon for preliminary budget conversations to talk about how costs are going to increase next year for that building.”
Mattis said that since the building is large and included features, such as elevators, that the current courthouse does not, operating costs will increase on an annual basis.
“It is going to be an increase we’re going to have to deal with,” Mattis said, also noting that no exact number has yet been placed on what that cost will be. The only true gauge will be to have the building open its doors to the public, he said.
The courthouse project, under taken by Kenbridge, Va. based Kenbridge Construction Company, is on schedule and on budget.
“I think the way the city made a way to make a conscious effort to position this building in a very visible location to help foster a re-development on the southern end of the Boulevard,” Mattis said.
The building is currently taken shape at one end of the city’s Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in Colonial Heights and one the council hopes to refurbish.
The city opened bids for the next phase of the ongoing Boulevard modernization on Wednesday. That next phase will work on the stretch of road between Westover Ave and the site of the new courthouse.
The capital improvement projects planned for the Boulevard involve widening, curb and gutter work and improvement to streetscapes. The $10 million project is on track to be completed in two years.
“When we’re done with it, it will stretch from Temple all the way down past the courthouse,” Mattis said. “...so you’ll have construction down there for the better part of two years, but by the end of the two years it will be a very attractive part of town.”
The project also involves plans to widen Dupuy Ave. from two lanes to three, creating a wider pathway for traffic bound for Virginia State University.
“We did our own analysis, and Virginia State themselves will tell you that 80 percent of their visitors to their campus come down Dupuy Ave.,” Mattis explained. “The only way to come down Dupuy Ave. to Virginia State is to go through the city of Colonial Heights...From an infrastructure kind of traffic standpoint, we’re very much tied to whatever’s going on out there.”
The Boulevard Modernization Project is being funded through VDOT and the Crater Planning Commission Regional Funds, which is fully funding the $4 million Dupuy Ave. phase of the project. The city is responsible for paying five percent of the $10 million for the improvements, or $500,000, which Mattis said is available in capital funds.
The project is underway in small sections. In front of the police station on the Boulevard, the city has completed the street-scaping, widening the sidewalks, improving the curbs and gutters and changing the street lighting.
“Between now and those two years, there will be some disruption,” Mattis confirmed, noting there will be lane closures during that period.
“If we do that without any aggravation and drama, we’ll be the first city in America to do that,” he said. “It is inevitable that there will be some frustration, but hopefully we’ll get through that as quickly as possible and get to the good part.”