ABINGDON, Va. — “Now, this is going to be serious,” I said to Jason Berry, the county administrator for Washington County.
“Real serious,” I added.
“OK,” Berry returned.
“If there really is a chance that the county courthouse moves to the old Kmart building, would that mean that you could get a Blue Light Special?” I asked. “Would you get a Blue Light Special for a get-out-of-jail free card? Or would the cops give you a Blue Light Special for running a red light?”
Berry started laughing on the other end of the telephone.
“And would the employees have to wear red uniforms like the employees did at the Kmart?” I continued.
Berry chuckled some more.
And then we got serious. Real serious.
The beloved Washington County Courthouse, Berry told me, is too small for modern functions of the courts and has virtually no parking — little more than 75 spaces, which are mostly used by employees, leaving visitors to search for spots around town.
Which brings us to the Kmart.
Remember where we used to buy potato chips and compact discs and artificial Christmas trees?
Well, imagine that spot as the place to pay a parking ticket or file a legal document.
The former Kmart location in Abingdon is one of three options now being entertained by county officials to solve the woes of overcrowding at the historic Washington County Courthouse, which has been standing on Main Street since 1869.
Another option is to build a new courthouse at a cost of $33 million, Berry said.
The least expensive solution would require spending $14 million to renovate the current courthouse, though, according to Berry, that would really only be a temporary fix — and still give no additional parking.
What Berry calls an “adaptive reuse” of the Kmart building would allow for 89,000 square feet and afford about 350 parking spaces, just off Cummings Street and I-81’s Exit 17.
Price tag: $25 million.
“The most cost effective is the adaptive reuse ... and the adaptive reuse is a 30-or 40-year fix for the county,” Berry said. “At the end of the day, when we look it, financially speaking, this makes the most sense.”