The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has agreed to study whether the former Levy Opera House in Court Square could be used as a shared general district court with the city of Charlottesville.
Co-location was the main recommendation of a task force of city councilors and the supervisors that has been exploring ways to keep the county courts downtown.
However, the county is still holding open the option of moving its court system to another location in Albemarle.
“This doesn’t preclude any decision that we will make down the road,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.
The City Council agreed in December to pay for half of the nearly $15,000 study, which will build on a 2010 feasibility analysis of the Levy building by the Moseley Architects.
The city concluded in 2010 not to proceed with that study.
“Based off of their caseload trends, they felt they would not want to proceed with that as an option,” said Trevor Henry, the county’s facilities development director.
Without the city as a potential partner, the county hired another firm in 2012 to examine several options to accommodate a projected increase in caseloads expected as the county population increased. These options included renovating the existing courts as well as moving to a new complex in Albemarle. All the options had preliminary cost estimates of more $40 million.
In 2013, a previous board discarded the option of moving the courts, but new supervisors elected later that year decided to reopen the possibility. One reason was a perceived lack of parking.
“This board sent us on a task to make sure the parking question was able to be answered,” said Supervisor Jane Dittmar, who served on the task force along with Supervisor Ann H. Mallek.
The reconsideration prompted the City Council to reconsider a shared court facility.
“The city has signaled its willingness to co-locate their general district court in a facility at the Levy site,” said Bill Letteri, the deputy county executive.
“The city [has also] indicated its support to proceed with a plan to accommodate the short-term needs of parking and go forward with a formal study to study the more permanent needs for parking downtown,” he added.
In addition to agreeing to split the cost of the study, Charlottesville has also rearranged its draft capital improvement plan budget to include $6.5 million to pay for its share of construction over the next five years.
Letteri said the study will suggest floor plans to accommodate both communities’ needs and will result in a more defined cost estimate.
The council approved a new long-term parking management study on Monday, and Letteri said short-term parking is also being addressed.
“Suggestions as to how they can accommodate parking will go on concurrent with this study,” Letteri said. “I would not expect their long-term and more detailed study to be done in that three-month timeframe.”
One supervisor said he wanted to keep the relocation option open even if only to get a cost comparison.
“I’m not ready to not consider the cost of what going to a completely new site would be rather than renovation,” said Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd.
The study will come back to the full board and the City Council later this year.
The board also allocated $150,000 from the capital improvement program to allow interim improvements such as the expansion space for the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
Supervisors also agreed to consider other potential uses for $2 million in county funding set aside previously to help pay for the Piedmont Family YMCA’s proposed fitness and aquatic center in McIntire Park.
Boyd said he wants to be ready to move the money elsewhere in case the project doesn’t move forward. The YMCA is still working to secure complete financing for the project. On Monday, the City Council gave the nonprofit another year to break ground.
Staff will return to the board with more information during consideration of next year’s budget.