Marshall Center’s Future: Balancing History and Fiscal Responsibility
Since last summer the Marshall Center, also known as the former Spotsylvania High School, has been discussed multiple times by the Board of Supervisors – whether the proposed sale, lease to the St. Michael the Archangel High School or conducting various levels of renovations to extend the life cycle of the building.
Last month, County staff presented 2 broad options for maintenance and general repairs. For context, County staff estimated it would cost roughly $8-9 million to construct a new Merchant Square type building to be used for county office space. Complete renovations and refitting at the Marshall Center could cost as much as $20 million. Further complicating the decision is since 2014 the Board authorized about $1 million in renovation investments on such items as window replacements and a new roof.
At the April 3rd Board meeting, former Berkeley Supervisor Emmitt Marshall, grandfather to current Berkeley Supervisor Kevin Marshall (and namesake to the Marshall Center) asked the Board if they directed County Administrator Taylor to discuss with W. J. Vakos Companies about selling the Marshall Center. E. Marshall told the Board that Vakos told him that these discussions were underway. Chairman Benton would not confirm or deny the claims, but chose to reiterate that public comment period was not a forum for dialogue or debate. E. Marshall told the public that Supervisors Marshall and Skinner told him they were unaware of any sale discussions.
This brings me to this next point, can Supervisor Marshall maintain objectivity on this issue that effects a building that bears his family’s name and legacy? Should he recuse himself? At a March meeting, Supervisor Marshall insinuated that renovations were not that extensive and could be done without much cost. However County staff cost estimates, without any engineering work, ranged from $5-20 million. The low end of those figures do not do much to improve the building for additional capacity or allow for refitting to increase usable office space. Additionally, the items on the repair list electrical, plumbing, and HVAC are massive undertakings that cannot be half-way done. Therefore any movement toward these ends would be committing to multi-million dollar projects that cannot be halted later.
This is not an indictment on Supervisor Marshall, any descendant in this situation would be placed in a difficult position. But the Board’s duty is to make decisions in the best interest of the community and when construction figures insinuate that a brand new modern structure can be built at a cheaper costs than renovating a 80 year old structure than it needs to be given strong consideration.
There is no doubt that the services and activities conducted in the Marshall Center are critical to the Community. I have yet to hear anyone question this at any public comment period. These services and activities need to be continued in the vicinity of the Courthouse Village area keeping them in a centralized location of the County.
No decision on the future of the Marshall Center is expected prior to the Board of Supervisors Retreat on May 12th from 8am to 2pm at the Merchant Square Building. At this time, the Board is expected to hold informal talks about future needs for office space for County Departments.
In the meantime, we need to be aware of these discussions and consider whether the driving factor of the Marshall Center renovation is based on the best use of public funds or an unwise investment on a building that lacks the space layout to function with the demands of the future.
The slideshow was never posted online, but you can listen to the most recent discussion and review the slide show starting at minute marker 1:01:00.
Click here to read a Scott Shenk’s Free Lance-Star article for additional information.