Costly collapse: Courthouse project nearly finished

onarch-courtcolumns-a1New columns adorn the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court on High Street. The brick columns shown here have since been covered with white stucco.

In 2004, the City and County approved the renovation of the old Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court on High Street. The projected $12 million project also included a new 3-level, 91-space parking deck.

Today, the project is finally nearing completion, but at a cost that has rocketed to $19.9 million. That's nearly three Downtown Mall renovation projects.

Built in 1902, the Colonial Revival building that housed the jail was originally Elks Lodge No. 389 and featured a library, a card room, a billiard parlor, and even a bowling alley. Early photographs of the lodge show the building with a big four-column portico on the front with a giant elk or deer head attached to its pediment.

A major fire in the late 1940s destroyed much of the building, and when it was later renovated, local architect Floyd Johnson chose not to rebuild the portico. Other distinguishing features include double fan arches over the front door and the window above, two pilasters corresponding with Doric columns, and a rusticated fa§ade on which every fifth brick is indented.

What the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court building looked like in 2002 .
PHOTO FROM CITY WEBSITEonarch-courthouse-2002-a

Part of the reason the renovation has taken so long, and cost so much, is the fact that a section of the building collapsed during construction in March 2006. Construction was delayed not only by the costly mishap, but also by the costly litigation that followed.

“It’s the City’s position that it was the fault of the contractor and/or subcontractors,” said City attorney Craig Brown in May 2007. “But we’re hoping to have this whole thing resolved this week.”

Try two more years.

The City would eventually file a lawsuit accusing Kenbridge Construction and excavation company J.A. Walder of "cutting corners" to maximize profits on the City's dollar, and claiming that the city had to hire a structural engineer to fix the building while Kenbridge refused to go back to work. Of course, Kenbridge fired back with its own lawsuit, accusing the city of supplying  "inaccurate or inadequate" plans, and then for good measure went after subcontractor Walder, accusing it of negligence.

According to the engineers the city hired, the "design and method of installation of the underpinning system caused the 'soil wedge' supporting the footings to slide out from underneath the building, and the unsupported wall to collapse." The city maintained this was the responsibility of Kenbridge and Walden. Construction eventually continued, though at a snail's pace.

onarch-elkslodge-aWhat the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court building looked like when it was the Elks Lodge.

According to Brown, a face-off in court was finally avoided when all parties agreed to sit down for three days of mediation in January 2009.

Kenbridge, which would be responsible for the cost of repairing the wall,  agreed to let the city keep $410,000 it was holding as a retainer, plus pay an additional $110,000. According to Brown,  that's about enough to cover the city's out-of-pocket costs, which include engineering fees after the collapse, attorney fees, and a redesign by the project architect, Richmond-based Moseley & Associates. In return, the city agreed not to seek damages for the project's lengthy delay. But don't cry for Kenbridge. They received over $1 million in insurance pay-outs for the mishap.

In the end, as part of the mediation agreement, no one was officially held responsible for the collapse, although Kenbridge was held responsible for getting the project finished before June 30, 2009. (Apparently, though, that's not going to happen. According to Judy Mueller, the city's public works director, the project won't be finished until mid-July.) As Brown seems to suggest, the City may not be entirely happy with the outcome, seeing as the project cost nearly $8 million more than expected, and took years to complete.

Asked if he thought the settlement was fair, Brown says, "Nobody gets everything they want."

As for the the courthouse's new look, it is seeing a return to the original Elks Lodge design, complete with the four-column portico on the front, although without the pediment and giant elk or deer head.


@3rd art critic, why don't you start a fund-raising campaign to give to the local governments for the elk's head, if it means that much to you, or do you feel the local tax payer hasn't spent enough money yet?

I am quite sure the Board of Architectural Review it since it's not a sign and looks expensive enough.

Aren't the columns of the new design more massive than the original. Hard to tell from the picture, but the seeing the actual building on High Street they look totally out of proportion to the rest of the building.

no big,

No, good catch. You're right. That's no moose. Looks like an elk or a big deer. Thanks.

Dave McNair

"...with a giant moose head under its peak." From your picture, it looks more like an elk? You know, for the Elks Lodge?

Hmmm, I'm sad about them omitting the pediment, and agree with the assessment about the coke bottle columns. The elk/deer head would lend a festive and whimsical air to the building, and I think that it, along with the pediment should be there.

I'm serious, I really like that stuff (Cville is often architecturally stagnant and boojy). Also, people could refer to it as the Deer Head building. Would make it easier to find, especially as we're always mixing up our courthouses 'round here.

Art critic: you're right. The columns are squat, fat Coke bottle imitations, not slender and graceful like the originals. They are made of brick slathered with cement, and the portico over them is a latticework of steel. How much did THAT ugly and pointless faux-portico cost us taxpayers?

@A view from the county, I don't know. Wasn't it Ed Robb that designed the security measures and parking around court square? I can't remember since I went from middle aged to ancient while they were working on the building. And Maurice Cox said there would only be a two-month delay while he and Meredith Richards tried to decide where to place the windows although the county and the BAR had already signed off on the project.

The motto in Chalbemarle is "Money is no object."
@dave, shame on you! You obviously weren't reading what you were writing. The Moose Lodge would have a moose and the Elk's Lodge would not. Ask these people:
Crozet Moose Lodge
(434) 823-2316
6135 Rockfish Gap Tpke, Crozet, VA (Smiley Face)

That's a fantastic idea-- I'll consider having a bake sale. Though I imagine a piddly little elk head would be a mere drop in the bucket compared to the waste that this project has already experienced.

Big Issue for me,

Will the County and the city utilize the parking garage, or wiil they continually let police vehicles take "civilian " parking places. Many times the county usurps these spots when their own spots are available.Intent or just lazy ?

Yes to the rolls! I can probably find a stuffed elk head in a rummage shop somewhere. Unfortunately, convincing the City to display this noble beast on the courthouse would probably prove difficult.

Would six dozen rolls help? That's the most I can afford to burn.