Bedford County commission member Linda Yockey told the commission's courthouse and county property committee earlier this week that it should again consider the possibility of buying the Regions Bank building on the square to use for the county's severely-overcrowded judicial system.
"We've got to do something," said Yockey.
Late last year, local fire department officials said there was "dangerous overcrowding" of existing courtroom facilities, prompting an evaluation of how many people can safely occupy court chambers. There have also been concerns about security due to the numerous entrances to the courthouse.
Proposals to build a new jail and justice center, which would also address overcrowding at the jail, have met resistance from downtown merchants who say moving the court system would be a devastating blow to the square.
"I don't want to leave the square with any of our court system," said Yockey.
Yockey said the asking price for the bank building is $600,000, although the county might be able to negotiate with the bank. When such a project was discussed in 2009, the bank wanted to sell the entire building but then lease the first floor and the drive-through branch back from the new owners. If that's still the bank's intent, some committee members wondered whether the presence of prisoners going to and from court appearances would be a barrier to the sale.
The courthouse committee referred the issue to the county's Financial Management Committee to do a feasibility study of the project.
The county has been somewhat restricted in its ability to undertake new capital projects for the past few years due to existing debt, low income on investments, and tight tax revenue.