ABINGDON, Va. — Wrestling with what to do with the historic Washington County Courthouse on Abingdon’s Main Street took center stage at Thursday’s work session of the Abingdon Town Council.
“The issue of the courthouse is not a new one,” Jason Berry, county administrator for Washington County, told the council.
An engineering study, according to Berry, indicates that the courthouse needs 88,000 square feet. But the current courthouse has about 48,000 square feet, Berry said.
“Obviously, we’re short on space,” he said.
Security is also a concern, said Berry, who said that two inmates have gotten loose from the courthouse in recent months.
Three options are currently on the table: expanding the current courthouse; building a new courthouse; or buying the old Kmart in Abingdon and repurposing it as a courthouse.
Building a new courthouse would likely require a tax increase, Berry said.
Councilman Al Bradley said he would not mind a tax increase to help fund the county’s needs, adding, “I know the courthouse is way behind.”
Relocating the circuit court from the courthouse would require a referendum, Berry said.
“We can move everything out of that courthouse but the circuit court,” he added.
But if the referendum fails, it couldn’t be on the ballot for 10 years, Berry said.
“I would love to leave the courthouse where it’s at. I really would,” county Supervisor Phillip McCall told the council members.
But space and security issues mean a move or expansion is necessary, he added.
Town Councilwoman Donna Quetsch asked Berry what might happen to the old courthouse.
“We know the courthouse is a major structure to downtown Abingdon,” Berry said. “Whatever happens, we want to be a good partner.”
Berry said ideas that have surfaced this week include relocating the library or chamber of commerce to the structure. Other ideas have included turning the 150-year-old building into a museum or boutique hotel, Berry said.
Judges in the courthouse have indicated to county officials that, if action is not taken soon, the state Supreme Court could force the county to build a courthouse or fix structural problems at whatever specifications are deemed necessary, Berry said.
McCall added, “We just want to get it done so we don’t have the state tell us what to do.”