Augusta County proposes plan to move courthouse out of Staunton

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:49 PM EST
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - The site of the Augusta County Courthouse is once again up for discussion.

It’s located in Staunton, but county leaders say that might change soon. The location of the courthouse has been a topic of conversation between the county and the city for years.

“The city and the county have been in discussions for ten years, maybe more, over the site of the Augusta County Courthouse,” said Staunton City Council Member Brenda Mead.

In 2016, the county made an effort to move, putting it up for a citizen vote.

“We had a referendum to potentially move our courthouse to Verona. Our referendum at that time did not pass,” said Augusta County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald.

After that vote failed, Fitzgerald said they’d have to wait until 2026 to propose the change to voters again, but they need to make the move sooner than that.

“We are currently under a Show Cause Order from our circuit court judge, who essentially has a lawsuit against the county in regards to our court. It says our courts are currently not safe and adequate,” said Fitzgerald.

Now, they’re planning to appeal to the General Assembly to pass a bill that states the county can move their facilities to Verona.

“We reengaged with the city and started talking about an agreement that would allow us, with the legislative program coming this coming year, to request to the general assembly a piece of legislation that would allow us to build our court facilities in Verona,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald and Mead said Augusta County and the City of Staunton have both tried to work out a way the courthouse can stay active in Staunton, but they weren’t able to reach an agreement. Fitzgerald said they’re not able to make changes required by state law that also follows rules put forward by the Staunton Historic Preservation Commission.

The current agreement states that Augusta County will move their court and Staunton will take control of the buildings.

“For us, we feel like it’s a win-win situation. We’re glad that we’ve been able to come up with this agreement,” Fitzgerald said.

While Staunton will support Augusta County when they seek legislation, many leaders agree: they’d like for things to stay the same.

“I don’t think anyone in the city would deny that we would prefer to keep the courthouse here. That would be our number one choice, but that’s not going to be our choice,” Mead said.

Even though they don’t want things to change, Mead said they will be happy to have control of the buildings to preserve the historic nature.

“We decided it was in the best interest for the citizens of the City of Staunton for us to have control over these properties and support Augusta County in that legislation, and then ultimately we would have control of these properties,” Mead said.

Fitzgerald said the new courthouse will be in Verona near social services and the government center, which will make much of county-related business centrally located.

“We either have to do it [in Verona}, or we will have to figure out something downtown, and we’ve found in the past that’s been very difficult to do,” Fitzgerald said.

Mead said there’s no official word on what they plan to do with the space, but they’ve talked about a few ideas.

The Augusta County Board of Supervisors will vote on the plan Wednesday, Dec. 8, and Staunton will discuss it Thursday, Dec. 9. The plan won’t be in action until it gets a passing vote from the Board of Supervisors.

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