Famed Architect Chosen for New CourthouseVenerable Ladies Find a New HomeCiting a Botched Job, City Sues ContractorGallery Crash Stirs Traffic Discussion Famed Architect Chosen for New Courthouse
After years of discussions, Richmond is set to receive a new federal courts building downtown, and a nationally known architect has been chosen to design it. Robert A.M. Stern, a New York architect and dean of the Yale School of Architecture, was quietly awarded the job Nov. 16 after a five-month search that included some 40 to 50 design firms across the country. The new, 250,000-square-foot courthouse, which will cost between $65 million to $75 million, will most likely replace an entire downtown city block. Stern's selection as the lead architect puts a famous face on a project that so far has existed only on paper. A native of Brooklyn, Stern attended Columbia and Yale, wrote a series of books on design and served as host for a PBS series. He has designed buildings throughout the world - closest to Richmond, the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. His work is part of the permanent collections in several prominent museums. "We're obviously very excited" about Stern's selection, says Don O'Neill, a regional manager for real estate at the General Services Administration. The GSA is the federal management agency that will oversee the courthouse project. Next up, O'Neill says, is finding a home for the building. "I think we're hopeful that by the spring we'll have picked the site that we'll go after," he says. The idea for a new courts building has germinated since 1991, as the GSA and the administrative office of the courts discussed long-range plans. The current Lewis F. Powell Jr. U.S. Courthouse, at 10th and East Main streets, apparently needs more room. The building, which houses the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, needs the space to deal with growth, more complex security needs, and entrances and exits for three separate groups: judges, prisoners and the public. The U.S. District Court - which also includes the U.S. Bankruptcy Court - will move into the new building. The Circuit Court will remain in the Powell courthouse. But all those plans are on hold until the 2001 federal budget gets approved. In it, the GSA has requested $19 million to pay for design work and site acquisition for the new courthouse. If that money comes through, the GSA plans to ask for $45 million to $65 million in the 2003 budget to build the courthouse. "If we all had our way," O'Neill says, "we'd be cutting the ribbon for this right now. But it has to get in line, and there's lots of projects all over the country." Meanwhile, Stern says he will continue to research potential sites, talk with Richmond's federal judges and study what he calls the "rich and long-embedded" downtown classical buildings such as the state Capitol. "I would try to burrow myself into those buildings, and get the feel of them and see if we can't carry that spirit forward," he says. After all, Stern says, a federal courts building must convey the dignity of the system, and he plans to take a measured approach to achieve that. "A building like a courthouse cannot just be fitting into some little corner of the world," Stern says. "It's not a simple slam-dunk. It's complex." Jason Roop Venerable Ladies Find a New Home
For years, mum's been the word. "It's Richmond's best-kept secret," says Timothy Johnson, the president and CEO of the venerable Richmond Home for Ladies. The home has been a Richmond institution since 1883 and moved to 2620 Stuart Ave. in 1914. From its sprawling porch, legions of gray-haired women have waved hello to generations of passersby. But in March the Stuart Avenue site will close, the rocking chairs will be packed up and the 39 women still living there will move to a new home at a suburban Hanover County address. The new facility, a $34 million project on 33 acres of land behind Lee Davis High School in Hanover County, will be named Covenant Woods. It's a far cry from the current home: The new site will be able to accommodate up to 240 individuals and couples in apartments and cottages. In addition there will be a wellness center, on-site physician, elder care programs and an 8-foot-wide paved fitness trail around a lake. Base rates will run between $90,0000 to $250,000. The move began five years ago, when board members decided the retirement home would have to make some radical changes to ensure its future. The construction has been funded with bonds. The change of site will be one thing. But the biggest change may be in moving from an all-female policy to co-ed. "We've been taking bets on who's going to get married first," Hodges jokes. So far, things are right on schedule. The 39 current residents will be moved all on one day sometime this March. Hodges says the historic building on Stuart Avenue appears to be in good hands. "We have a contract" with West End developer Robert Borum, she says. Borum could not be reached for comment. Hodges says she's heard that the site could convert to either a bed and breakfast or luxury apartments. Brandon Walters Citing a Botched Job, City Sues Contractor
The city of Richmond has dumped the technology company it hired to modernize one of its computer systems, and it wants a refund on the $1.18 million job. Charging that the firm, Islip N.Y.-based Creative Socio-Medics Corp., delivered a system for Richmond's Department of Social Services "that was never completed and never fully functional," the city has filed a lawsuit against it in Richmond Circuit Court. The city seeks nearly $374,000 it has paid for the work so far. Creative referred questions to an attorney, who said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. No court date has been set. Without its planned computer system, about 500 Social Services employees have been using a 20-year-old computer system that does little more than cut checks. "We are not using anything that we got from Creative," says Debbie Hinton, the city's systems operations administrator for human services. Plans to update the city's computer systems began in November 1997, when the city sought bids for the project, which included software packages, installation and support for the Department of Social Services. The department hoped to streamline the process of tracking clients, managing cases, integrating state programs and paying such providers as daycare centers, foster parents and adoptees with special needs. Eventually the city selected Creative, a subsidiary of Netsmart Technologies Inc. The city signed a five-year contract with Creative on May 26, 1998, and work was scheduled to be completed in June 2003. But once work was underway on the systems, the city charges in its lawsuit, Creative failed to meet deadlines, provide updated project plans and integrate certain software. "Creative negligently failed to deliver a fully functional, customized system as agreed," the city says in the suit. It also "repeatedly demonstrated a lack of quality control and was unable to correct the system so as to make it work properly." The city also contends that Creative misrepresented its capabilities. While the city wrangles over legal issues with Creative, it's pursuing new vendors for the computer project. But it will hold off selecting one until the lawsuit is resolved. J.R. Gallery Crash Stirs Traffic Discussion
Artemis Gallery owner John Crutchfield is hopping mad. Last Wednesday his largely all-glass gallery was shattered when a car plunged through its front window. According to police reports, shortly after 4 p.m. a young woman traveling west on Main Street ran a red light at Lombardy Street, then hit a car driven by an 82-year-old man. Crutchfield, who witnessed the accident, says the impact caused the woman's car to crash through the gallery's window at tremendous speed. "There were four customers in the gallery at the time. If any of our pieces had become projectiles someone could have been killed," Crutchfield says. The man was sent to a hospital; police say he's in stable condition. The woman has been charged with running a red light. The accident cost the gallery about $20,000 in merchandise and labor, Crutchfield says. "We're struggling to make it," Crutchfield adds, "and this accident and the damage it's caused makes the struggle even harder, especially at our busiest time of year." Crutchfield says the accident points to a growing problem of unmanageable traffic and growing speeds along West Main Street. And, he says, it's time for the city to do something about it. The speed limit is 25 mph, but "people barrel down this road at speeds of 45 and 50 miles per hour, sometimes faster," Crutchfield says. "There has never really been an example of what could happen and this is it." The accident has prompted Crutchfield to renew his efforts to unite Main Street merchants, artists and business owners to lobby City Council to recommend changes that could help slow traffic. Crutchfield suggests such things as radar stations, painted crosswalks to slow traffic and adding a large sign near Belvidere that warns motorists of a $500 fine. "We're launching a letter-writing campaign" to garner support, he adds. But ultimately, Crutchfield says, there's just one solution: "Main Street should be turned into a two-way street." - B.W.