February 22, 2007

Ideas on old courthouse's use sought

Thursday, February 22, 2007

By MICKEY POWELL & DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writers

Got an idea about how the old Henry County Courthouse uptown can be used again? The Southside Business Technology Center (SBTC) is listening.

In partnership with Virginia Tech, the SBTC is developing a strategy for reusing the historic structure as part of a study commissioned by the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society.

In the process, the SBTC is seeking ideas from the public on potential uses and tenants for the courthouse, funding options and how the building can be managed and staffed, according to SBTC Executive Director Eva Doss.

Doss said an advisory committee studying possible uses for the courthouse so far has referred about 150 people to the SBTC. They include local business owners, retirees and academicians.

But “we want to give everybody an opportunity to comment,” she said.

Anyone wanting to give an opinion is asked to contact Steve Mergeani at 638-2523, ext. 325, by March 5.They will be asked to fill out a confidential questionnaire, Doss said.

Questions will include:

• “What is your view on the historic Henry County Courthouse’s role in Martinsville-Henry County? How could it best serve the community?” and

• “What is your view on the following potential uses for the Henry County Courthouse?” (Respondents will be asked to choose either a “single use” for the building or “mixed use.”)

“From the very beginning, the community stakeholders’ opinions have been very important,” Doss said, adding that the SBTC itself remains neutral.

“The SBTC doesn’t have a decision or strategy” as to what vision will be adopted for the courthouse, she emphasized. “We remain objective.”

Doss declined to mention any ideas that people already interviewed have suggested out of concern for compromising the SBTC’s objectivity.

The SBTC will oversee a study team representing various organizations, including Virginia Tech’s Office of Economic Development, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and Ware Bonsall Architects of Charlotte, N.C.

When the team’s work is completed, Doss said, several presentations will be made to the advisory committee related to different visions for reusing the courthouse.

She expects that may happen as early as mid-March.

After receiving feedback on the various options from committee members, she said, the SBTC will “really start looking at the cost” and other factors involved with options favored by the committee.

Those concepts then will be presented at a public forum, maybe as soon as April or May, “where we again ask for citizens’ input,” Doss said.