Year later: talks stalled in courthouse collapse

It's been over a year since the northeast corner of the old Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court building collapsed during a $13.5 million renovation, but as passers-by have noticed, little has changed. In fact, the photo left with the scaffolding in place was taken last September, but it could have been taken yesterday.

City Attorney Craig Brown says the City has so far avoided going to court over the March 30, 2006 mishap, preferring instead to negotiate with the contractor, Kenbridge Construction. The discussion, says Brown, has revolved around the considerable cost of restoring the building and continuing the renovation.

However, as Brown told the Hook last September, an engineering study concluded that demolishing the building would cost "three times as much" as stabilizing and repairing the corner. At that time, Brown wasn't ready to blame the collapse on the contractor, as he was waiting for Kenbridge to respond to the findings of the engineering study. Today, however, it appears the City has passed judgement.

"It's the City's position that it was the fault of the contractor and/or subcontractors," says Brown. "But we're hoping to have this whole thing resolved this week." Brown pauses, lets out a weary laugh. "But give me a call next week."

Indeed, last year, UVA structural engineer Tom Baber, an expert on building collapses, said this "will be in the courts for sure" and predicted the contractor would be held responsible.

According to city building code official Tom Elliott at the time, the collapse occurred while workers for Kenbridge Construction were in the process of "underpinning," or reinforcing, the foundation for a three-story courthouse addition. They were using a converted track-hoe to drill holes at the base of the old courthouse's foundation when workers noticed a crack forming in the wall.

Meanwhile, the project's limbo status has, as our Squeaky Wheel columnist noted in January, blocked the sidewalk with construction fencing. Since the sidewalk on the other side of High Street is closed when prisoners are transfered to the county courthouse, there are times when the entire block in our pedestrian-friendly Downtown is closed to pedestrians.

Stay tuned for updates on the negotiations between the City and Kenbridge Construction. If something can't be worked out, and it does go to court, that scaffolding could be up for a long time.

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4 comments

This is irresponsible on the part of the city and city attorney. A year is too long - way too long. If the contractor hasn't settled yet, now the legal process could drag on for additional years.

Stop being wishy-washy and touchy-feely with our tax dollars, City Hall. FIX THIS.

What did the demo plans show? Where they approved. Who dropped the ball???

Nothing moves quickly here in the village. I'd be willing to bet that five years from now the sidewalk is still closed. I am also willing to bet there are a number of lawyers here in town that will make money from this situation.

Why is the sidewalk still closed?
Why was it ever closed?
It would seem a simple task to move the barricade fence five or six feet closer to the building to allow pedestrians to safely pass ans still provide ample protection from construction or debris hazards.
In fact, it appears the fence is currently located to protect renovation equipment and materials, not pedestrians.