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Albemarle County Courts debate

One thing that prevents people from getting involved in the community is simply a lack of information. We, as Monticello High School seniors, want people to take action, and be educated about different issues happening within the community.

Right now in our community one of the issues that is being looked at is the future of the Albemarle County Court Complex and whether it should be renovated, relocated or co-located with courts for the City of Charlottesville. There are a considerable number of people on each side of the debate.

If the buildings were renovated there would be some advantages and disadvantages. An advantage would be that the buildings would stay in a historical location; the heart of the city. A few of the disadvantages are that there wouldn’t be enough parking for the public and there’s also no space for future facility expansion.

The first potential option is the renovation. This would be a renovation of the majority of the court complex. This would include upgrading the old buildings that President Thomas Jefferson studied and worked in. Some of the buildings were built in the late 1700s and have only had a few minor renovations over the years.

Due to the historical significance and the convenience of the location of these buildings, people don’t want the courts to relocate to another location. The estimated prices for the renovation are $526 per square foot, a total of $46.3 million. Although, the money is a factor that’s holding the project up, there are others.

There are several reasons why the court needs to be renovated. The first one being the parking.  Parking in the downtown area around the courthouse is very limited and is now in higher demand than before because the court’s caseloads are getting bigger.

The second reason the buildings need an upgrade is security. Security needs to change because it is dangerous for inmates to be in the same area as witnesses and lawyers, and there is currently not much room in the buildings for these people to be in two separate places.

The second potential option is the relocation of a few of the buildings. There are two different options for the relocation. The courts could either be relocated onto McIntire Road near the County Office Building or to a “greenfield” development area where there has been no previous development.

The advantages of relocating would include ample parking, plenty of room to expand courts for bigger caseloads, and a more safe and secure place for people to attend.

The McIntire option’s estimated cost would be around $555 per square foot, and the total construction cost would be around $48 million. The “greenfield” option would allow all of the courts to be in the same area. The estimated construction cost would be nearly $557 per square foot, and a total of $52.1 million.

A third option discussed by the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Charlottesville City Council is co-location. Co-location is the idea of joining the general district courts for both localities.

The advantages are that it would avoid the hassle of lawyers having to travel further to get to the court, keeping the client free of extra charge for the lawyer’s commuting time. It would also keep the whole legal community within the downtown area, just like the renovation idea. Disadvantages would be the high cost between $40 million to $50 million, and many people believe the county’s flexibility would be limited.

Our job as members of this community, is to inform the people of this issue that will affect many. It is something that needs to be decided, but it can’t be decided unless the people are informed.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Shwarlyn Arriola, Lesly Aleman, Lupe Torres, Saul Jara  and Logan Lily are Seniors at Monticello High School