The county courthouse complex in the heart of Fairfax City is about to undergo a dramatic renovation and expansion, which means that driving and parking near the courts or public safety headquarters will soon change drastically.
Fairfax County officials said they hope the general contractor will begin work by late July on the $115.7 million project, which includes a new home for the county's Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court as well as new courtrooms for the Circuit and General District courts.
Plans call for closing the main entrance to the complex off Chain Bridge Road (Route 123) indefinitely and closing the entrance off Judicial Drive permanently. The large surface parking lots along Chain Bridge Road in front of the courthouse will be the launching point for the construction.
"There's going to be some inconvenience," said Fairfax Circuit Court Chief Judge Michael P. McWeeny. "But when this is through, I honestly feel Fairfax County is going to be proud of our courthouse."
The refurbishing of the existing courthouse and an addition that will more than double the building's square footage are scheduled to take about four years. Bids from three general contractors were opened May 12, and Pittsburgh-based Dick Corp. submitted the low bid of $94.9 million. The county Board of Supervisors is expected to award the contract next month, which would mean the company should be given notice to proceed by early July.
Under the plan, the county's Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, now crammed into a building that dates from 1800, would be moved into the new courthouse, where it would share resources with the Circuit and General District courts.
"The whole emphasis of the project is to get all three courts in one building," said Ellen vanHully-Bronson, the project manager for the county.
County planners worked with Fairfax City officials to devise a design more compatible with the historic nature of the city than the current five-story concrete courthouse building, said county planning chief Carey F. Needham. The facades of the north and east sides will be three stories high with brick arches, with interior sections rising to five stories to connect with the current courthouse.
The trees that currently stand in front of the courthouse will remain but will be part of a completely enclosed courtyard. The addition to the current courthouse will stretch from the east end almost to Chain Bridge Road and also connect with the north end in a "J" shape.
Unlike now, there will be no street or surface parking for the public because of security concerns. When construction starts, public users of the courthouse will need to park in either of two existing garages along Page Avenue, north of the courthouse. Page Avenue is just south of Main Street (Route 236) and can be reached either by turning south on West Street from Main Street or from the west end of Judicial Drive where the new U.S. Post Office is located. Directions can be found by visiting www.co.fairfax.va.us/courts/circuit/ and clicking on "Directions and Hours."
Garage B, the second of the two to be built, was opened last year, with automated pay machines for its 2,100 spaces. Garage A, also used by police and sheriff's office employees, has 828 spaces. A walkway connects Garage B to Garage A, and planners believe the total of nearly 3,000 spaces should meet the complex's needs.
The new courthouse was designed to be easier for the public to use, vanHully-Bronson said. An expanded law library will be on the first floor near the main entrance, as will the desk for marriage licenses and notary services. Officials hope the library and public services desk will stay open after the courts close, for the public's convenience.
Other changes the public should notice when the project is finished are a completely renovated cafeteria, new space for jurors and more daylight in the courtrooms. The new courthouse will add two rooms for the Circuit Court, four for General District Court and eight for Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, plus three unfinished courtrooms that will be designated as needs arise.
Employees in the courthouse will benefit from more space and a new heating and air conditioning system. Ventilation in the existing offices is inconsistent, and McWeeny said the building, constructed in 1982, cannot handle the heat generated by computers. Also, the building's electrical wiring is substandard and does not meet the courts' technological needs, the judge said.
Lawyers, judges and employees are eager to vacate the current Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court building, which features tiny courtrooms, narrow hallways and cramped office space. "It's really a substandard facility," McWeeny said.
The county hopes to renovate the building for use by other agencies, after the courts move out, but no funding has been approved for that.
Funding for the current expansion and renovation was approved by Fairfax voters in bond referendums in 1998 and 2002. Money also comes from the state as reimbursement for the costs of building the county jail.
McWeeny said designers included space, such as the unfinished courtrooms, for the courts to grow along with the county in the future.