After two years of discussion and planning to determine the best way to relieve overcrowing at Alexandria's City Hall, the Alexandria City Council has approved the schematic site plan for the city's new courthouse.

Alexandria City manager Douglas Harman called the new courthouse, which will cost $9.6 million and be located in the 500 block of King Street, "one of the most important public facilities currently under development." It is expected to be completed within three years.

The new building will include courtrooms for the general district, circuit and juvenile and domestic relations courts, and offices for the city attorney, commonwealth's attorney, sheriff and magistrate. It also will house jury rooms and rooms where attorneys can talk to clients in private.

Beverly Beidler, a city councilwoman who describes herself as a "recent convert" to the courthouse site plan, discovered one of the most important reasons for the new facility when she served as a juror last week.

"I really got to see how small those jury rooms are. Some don't even have windows," Beidler said. "And when I came back from lunch, I saw a man and thought to myself, 'Hm, he looks familiar.' I started to speak to him cheerily, and then I realized he was the defendant in the case we were trying. It's an eerie feeling."

City Manager Harman said the need to "physically separate the public and prisoners from the judges, juries, and others who are a part of the judicial process" is one of the most critical reasons for constructing a new courthouse.

The 500 block of King Street is an urban renewal parcel, and will contain a commercial and office building as well as the courthouse. The main entrance of the courthouse will face an open courtyard, which in turn opens to King Street. The designers claim that the courthouse's recessed entrance and other features will allow persons to easily distinguish it from the commerical offices.

The firm of Saunders, Cheng and Appleton is the architect for the new facility. The developer of the 500 block of King Street is Gadsby Associates.

In addition to the approval of the courthouse site plan, the council last week also approved a list of building improvement projects, which will require a bond issue sale in February of $14.67 million.

The projects include:

Construction of new multi-purpose rooms at George Mason and William Ramsay elementary schools and renovation of the media center and art and music rooms at George Mason; completion of the construction of T.C. Williams High School's vocational education center; upgrading of classroom lighting in public schools to meet state standards at three schools; development of the school and recreation area around Patrick Henry Elementary School; land acquisition in the Holmes Run-Cameron Run Valley; park landscaping along the Four Mile Run Channel, as well as continued funding of the city shard of the Four Mile flood control project; beginning construction on the new courthouse; completion of the new Seminary Road Clinic; several street and bridge improvements: and completion of the firs phase of the Holmes Run-Cameron Run flood control project.

Harman said the bond market currently is the most favorable that is has been in several years.