Development of new Juvenile and Domestic Relations courtroom moves forward

By Michael Campbell – News Editor

Supervisors approved entering into a contract with a Richmond-based architectural company in an effort to renovate the courthouse basement area, allowing for the addition of a new courtroom.

After receiving three responses following Prince George’s request for proposals, county’s evaluation committee chose HVC Chenault to handle all the architectural and engineering services for the project at a cost of just under $200,000.

The project would see the current courthouse’s basement completely renovated and built out to include a new courtroom for Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

According to the county’s fiscal year 2014-2018 Capital Improvement Plan, the Sixth Judicial District, which includes Greensville, Emporia, Brunswick, Surry, Sussex, Hopewell and Prince George, “accounts for 22 percent of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) Court work load.”

Currently, Prince George is the only locality among those in the Sixth District that doesn’t have a separate JDR courtroom and General District courtroom, meaning judges “must schedule around” Prince George, county officials said in the CIP document.

“The addition of a JDR Courtroom would allow us to have General District Court as well as JDR court at the same time,” officials said.

According to the document “Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines,” “District courtrooms have many of the same features and requirements as circuit courtrooms with the exception that district courts are not courts of record and do not have jury trials,” adding, “They do not, therefore, require jury boxes or adjacent jury deliberation rooms.”

Officials with the Supreme Court of Virginia do suggest those designing new district courtrooms to consider “changes in court jurisdiction and to how the current courtroom may be used in the future.”

“Future flexibility is enhanced by the design of fairly generic courtrooms that can be used for a variety of court functions over the years,” officials explained. “This would mean designing district courtrooms that are at least large enough to accommodate a future jury box in case the district courtroom should ever be needed to be used as a circuit courtroom.”

As part of the courtroom renovations project, the county is also looking to address the need of more prisoner holding cells.

In the CIP document, the county said there were four cells and, at times, “there have been 27 prisoners” in the cells for one day of court, adding the lack of cells presents additional challenges for the court as there are restrictions on the mixing of juveniles, adult males and adult females that “make heavy court days difficult to manage.”

According to the document “Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines,” “Common practice is to have a central holding area normally located in the basement of the courthouse and adjacent to the vehicular sally port where in-custody defendants can be processed and held before and after their court appearance.”

In addition, it is suggested that JDR courts be equipped with temporary holding facilities for juveniles and adults.

“Juvenile and domestic relations district courts handle a wide range of juvenile and family cases involving violent and sometimes dangerous juveniles and adults, as well as abused, neglected, and other non-violent juveniles,” state officials explained. “Each court needs facilities that can accommodate a wide range of types of juvenile offenders while awaiting hearing or trial.”

Citing the growth in the county and at neighboring Fort Lee, the need for a separate JDR courtroom was paramount to county officials.

“Without separate courtrooms in the near future this could impact the citizens of the County with a longer time period getting into court as well as spending more time in court with longer dockets,” officials explained.

In a letter from HVC Chenault, they noted, “some of the features that were reported to not have been included in the original CIP budget process will be incorporated into the project.” In the CIP document, it called for the construction of a JDR courtroom, Sixth District Court Services unit office space and added prisoner holding cells.

Some additional items that will be done as part of the project according to HVC Chenault include “evidence storage spaces for the Clerk’s Office, toilet and shower facilities for the Sheriff’s staff, a break room for staff and similar amenities such as a pneumatic tube system for the clerk’s file transfer between the new courtroom and existing main office.”

They noted that “portions of these support spaces may be ‘shelled’ out” if the project is in danger of exceeding the approved budget.

Copyright 2016 by Womack Publications

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