Moving day for the Charlottesville/Albemarle Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court started a little early this week.
A batch of court files made its way over Monday to the newly renovated court building, which is expected to officially open its courtrooms on Aug. 17. In the meantime, court staff and the Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office are preparing for the move and figuring out the logistics of holding court.
The move into the new building is scheduled to start today and continue into Wednesday, said Mike Mollica, Charlottesville’s capital projects director. Phone lines, files and more will be transferred from the Levy Opera House at High and Park streets to the new court a half-block away.
Mollica said the courthouse should meet the court’s needs.
“It was dated,” said Mollica of the old courthouse. “This has a nice, bright, open feel and it has the space that [the courts] need.”
Most public areas of the courthouse were completed as of Monday. When court opens, people will come through the main entrance on High Street and a metal detector manned by a sheriff’s deputy.
Albemarle Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding said cell phones still won’t be permitted in court, but there still will be a temporary cabinet where people can store their phones while they are in the courthouse.
Harding said a deputy will direct people to the right courtroom for their hearings. It is not clear if both courtrooms will start operating at once.
The main entrance to the building is on the second floor. The second and third floors are identical, each with a main courtroom, a hearing room and restrooms. The clerk’s office is located one floor below the main entrance. Public elevators and stairwells are available inside the structure.
Each courtroom has double doors. Seating in the courtrooms is separated into three columns with enough room for about 70 people in the gallery. The courtrooms also have bulletproofing and monitors built into the tables for court staff and attorneys.
Harding said the public should expect more room and less noise in the renovated courthouse.
“Right now, you have two courts side by side and a lot of activities in the hallways,” said Harding of the Levy site. “You will see an improvement in sound separation [in the courthouse].”
The walls of the renovated courthouse are largely blank, with the exception of a window panel from the original building displayed near the second-floor courtroom. Mollica said the city hired an artist to reconstruct the transom window.
Mollica said the courtroom’s walls will be decorated with art through From Inside Out. The Central Virginia program, which is affiliated with the Piedmont Council of the Arts, teaches art to inmates in local prisons and sells the artwork to benefit charities and keep the program running.
The walls in the clerk’s office may be home to art made by local high-schoolers. Mollica said officials are having “early conversations” about displaying the students’ works.
“There’s a lot of opportunity with this wall space,” Mollica said.
As the finishing touches were put on the building over the last week, the building’s piercing alarm could be heard going off when crews opened doors. Harding said figuring out the building’s technology and what else needs to be done will take time.
The $20.1 million renovation is expected to come in at budget once the smaller projects are completed, Mollica said. The budget includes about $2 million used to retrofit the Levy Opera House into the temporary juvenile court building.
The renovation began in 2004, but it took extra time after a corner of the building collapsed in 2006 while construction crews drilled building supports. The work was pushed back again earlier this year as part of a settlement in the city’s lawsuit over who was responsible for the wall collapse.