VERONA — Augusta County may have another option on the table in securing space for expanding the current court systems located in downtown Staunton. Augusta County Supervisors discussed the ongoing project Monday afternoon during a called press conference.
After a 2016 referendum that asked voters if the Augusta County courts could be moved to Verona failed with about 67% saying no, Augusta County board chairman Gerald Garber said the board was left with just three options.
“There was a lot of effort put forth to try to prevent that. We had an election, and we had a decision. It was a strong decision, and it was we aren’t coming to Verona with the courts,” Garber said. “We don’t have a lot of choices in Staunton where the voters of Augusta County said we would stay.”
With the state dictating the county may only build on the current Circuit Court site on East Johnson Street or adjacent property, two property options existed — the old court building, which the county owns, or the Atlantic Union Bank across the street.
“We’ve talked to our friends across the street and they’re pretty proud of that building. Have you ever tried to buy something off someone that they were pretty proud of? It’s a real problem,” Garber said.
Without the bank property, the board was left to consider the old court building which has “problems that are probably equal and matching” the the current courthouse, Garber said.
But with three new Staunton City Council members elected in November, Augusta County board chairman Gerald Garber said discussing options with the city of Staunton is now back on the table.
“A number of years ago a design was brought forth that used the existing courthouse and expanded it as necessary. It was soundly rejected by the city of Staunton,” Garber said.
Garber said the board has met with Staunton City Council members who said they were open to the discussion. The county’s architects will meet with Staunton officials and “we will start down that path and see what happens,” Garber added.
The county announced Friday it had secured purchase options for nine properties surrounding the Circuit Courthouse in downtown Staunton. The purchase of the nine properties will “enable the county to develop a functional and secure space for the court systems while preserving the historic 1901 courthouse as an important focal point for downtown Staunton,” the county said in a statement.
Garber said Monday that the nine properties are all adjacent to the current courthouse and are not owned by the city. The county intends to purchase all or none of the nine properties.
The nine properties are located in a designated historic district which means “certain activities” possibly fall within the purview of the city’s historic preservation commission, the city of Staunton said Friday.
“Based on the information (from Augusta County), Staunton officials anticipate the receipt of an application to the historic preservation commission. Any such application will be processed and considered in accordance with established procedures,” the city of Staunton said in a statement, adding that they would not comment further until an application is filed.
County officials said they “remain committed to working with the city of Staunton to develop an expansion that not only meets the needs and standards of today’s complex court systems but also takes into consideration the historical context in which Staunton’s downtown development occurs” and that the county intends to work with the historic preservation commission in seeking approvals for the future courts facility.
“I want to emphasize that doing nothing is not an option,” Garber said. “In 30 years, this is the first time I’ve seen the board be unanimous in a direction. The ball is in someone else’s court now, so we will wait.”
At the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, it will consider amending an existing contract with Moseley Architects to include services for schematic design, environmental studies, surveying and structural analysis for the 1901 courthouse and its expansion.