PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - On Wednesday, Portsmouth city officials broke ground on a new judicial center.
Glass shattered and bricks fell in a ceremony to mark the beginning of a new court complex in Portsmouth. The groundbreaking is a result of when Circuit Court judges sued the city years ago.
Now city leaders, judges, clerks, and sheriff's deputies are looking forward to better facilities.
The new Judicial Center will sit on Port Centre Parkway less than a mile from the existing courts.
Hon. James Hawks, Chief Judge of Portsmouth Circuit Court told a crowd at the ground-breaking ceremony why the construction is so important.
"The deputy sheriff's will shackle and cuff the prisoners and they walk them right down the hallway where the members of the public are and where the judges and staff members are coming and going," he said.
"It's a dangerous situation, one we've lived with for many years and I can tell you we are currently very excited about this new process."
Judges complained about unsafe, and substandard conditions. Several times in the last year, 10 On Your Side has reported on changes in court schedules and locations because of leaks and flooding in the buildings.
The new state-of-the-art, 200,000 square foot complex will allow deputies to isolate prisoners.
The facility will provide 12 new courtrooms, as well as offices for the Commonwealth's Attorney and the Portsmouth Sheriff.
It costs about $78 million, which council member Steve Heretick said is a cost effective investment.
"We would have been forced to do it, win lose or draw with respect to the litigation brought by the judges," he explained. "We scrimped, we saved, we borrowed and stole in some cases - and we issued a new bond series, and it will be paid out in about 20 years. But we paid for the land, we paid for the building."
Portsmouth City Manager Ken Chandler told WAVY.com once construction is complete in two years, the city will have opportunities to increase revenue.
"We've got the ability to build a six story office building so with the waterfront and the downtown master plan development we're now building structures with ground floor retail... It is an investment in public dollars. A lot of times we complain that it's not taxable, but when we think about the ancillary development that comes with it, it's kind of unique and makes things taxable."
Portsmouth will also be able to develop the waterfront property where the courts are currently located.
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