Court Project Nears Completion

Court Project Nears Completion

Construction work on Courts Complex heads for completion by fall 2003.

Every two weeks, Judith Waddell has to pack up her paperwork and haul it two-and-a-half blocks to one or the other of her offices at Cornwall and East Market streets.

"I lose a lot of time running back and forth between buildings," said Waddell, clerk of the General District Court, which includes the traffic, criminal, civil and financial divisions of court services.

Waddell looks forward to the completion of the renovated Courts Complex to have those offices combined into one building. "It will be a welcomed relief," she said. She is not the only one glad to see the courtrooms and associated services for the district, circuit, and juvenile and domestic relations courts moved into the renovated and expanded Courts Complex, a $22 million project scheduled for completion in late fall.

"Our old space was very cramped and the waiting rooms and the actual size of the courtrooms was very troublesome," said Mark Crowley, director of court services for the Juvenile Court Service Unit. "There were clerks in janitor closets practically. There was no space."

The construction project combines offices from several buildings in downtown Leesburg on East Market, King, South and Cornwall streets into one facility. In two phases, three existing court buildings are being renovated and connected with an 83,000-square-foot addition that will increase the building’s size to 150,000 square feet.

"We needed more courtrooms, and we needed better courtrooms," said Jim Rauch, division manager for the county’s Department of General Services. "The floor plans got changed to meet the need. … Basically, it’s growth in the county, the number of cases and people’s need for services."

THE FIRST PHASE of the project, which was completed in September 2001, involves building the addition and renovating the former county administration building at 18 North King Street used by the circuit court. The first phase provides space for eight courtrooms, an addition of five courtrooms from the original design, and the offices for the clerks of the court at a cost of $20 million.

In the second phase, which is estimated to cost $2 million, two existing court buildings on East Market Street — known as the Academy and the Clone that copies the Academy’s design — will be connected to the addition and renovated to provide space for two future courtrooms on the second floor and staff offices on all three floors. The main entrance will be built to face out to East Market Street and the Leesburg Post Office and open into a lobby area.

"It will definitely consolidate all of the functions into one location. That’s got to be a plus," Rauch said.

Previously, the courtrooms for the circuit, district and juvenile and domestic courts were located in the old courthouse or the Academy, the second floor of the East Market Street building and a temporary trailer on the courthouse lawn. The design of the renovation and addition places the courtrooms and another five courtrooms side by side and locates the clerks’ offices near the courtrooms.

"It will be nice to get everybody together again once we move into our part," Waddell said.

FOR THE PAST 14 years, the district court has been divided into two buildings, the last five at 111 Cornwall Street for the traffic division and at 18 East Market St. for the criminal, civil and financial divisions. Once finished, the new office will save staff and customer time by allowing for records and other paperwork to be maintained in one location, Waddell said. As of now, court staff ends up sending customers from one building to another to conduct their business or to find the right building and cannot assist one another during slow times, she said.

"I think customer service will improve, and I think the efficiency and the quantity and quality of work will improve," Waddell said. "It will be a big morale boost to have people working together side by side. I think it will make the office a lot more efficient and professional."

As with the district court, the office for the juvenile and domestic relations court was separated from its courtroom. The office was located in the administration building until 1998 when the construction project began, requiring another move to 8 South Street. The office remained there until December 2000, when it was moved for a final time to the first floor of the west end of the Courts Complex near the new circuit court office.

"Being offsite was really problematic," Crowley said, explaining that the office petitions and processes complaints and provides professional services as directed by the court, functions that previously required clients to visit different buildings. Now, the office is located down the hall from the courtrooms. "It’s centrally located and pretty convenient to the citizenry and to the staff, I might add."

Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary Clemens agreed. "Our staff interacts on a regular basis because of the work we do," he said. "It was rather challenging to be efficient and to coordinate [work] when you have your office in three separate buildings."

Clemens referred to the separation of the file room from jury management and from land records and administration, along with a law library that will remain housed in a trailer until the second phase of the project is completed. At that time, the staffs for jury management, the district court clerk and Victim Witness will be moved into the completed Courts Complex building.

"Today, it’s much better. We’re all connected, and the files stay in the building," Clemens said. "They are a lot more secure than they were in the past."

The circuit court staff will have more space to process transactions, which will be separated at seven different walk-up windows to issue passports, marriage licenses and the other documents the office provides. "We tried to separate transactions to make the lines more quickly," Clemens said. "It affords us an opportunity to provide better customer services. There’s more room, and it’s spread out."