County feels the pain of historic office space

Buildings in dire need of repair; three county properties not ADA compliant

Even if the sun was shining — and it wasn’t — Friday’s FY18 budget-planning tour of Rappahannock County’s buildings and grounds would have been gloomy.

County administrator Debbie Keyser leads the five Rappahannock supervisors on a tour of county properties. Photo by John McCaslin

On the other hand, perhaps the rainfall was a blessing, given the five Rappahannock supervisors — clad in raincoats and huddled beneath umbrellas — could experience first-hand what some county employees endure on a daily basis.

One of several historic county buildings in need of repair. Photo by John McCaslin

“It was Niagara Falls in here this morning,” a Rappahannock County Courthouse staffer told the supervisors as they sloshed through her office. Towels covered the windowsill next to the employee’s desk, where rainwater had “poured in” through rotted wood. Somebody had tried to adhere sealing tape over broken windowpanes above her desk, to no avail.

The electrical system in the courthouse is so antiquated that before employees can heat food in their small microwave oven they first have to turn off the lights in two adjacent offices or else it will kick the breaker.

Bottom line: most if not all of the county’s historic 19th century brick structures — from the antebellum courthouse built in 1834 to the numerous small office buildings on either side of it — are in need of considerable updating and repair, if not extensive restoration.

Indeed, three of the county’s buildings, including the administrator’s office, are not handicapped accessible as required under the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act.

Otherwise, the eyesore in Commissioner of the Revenue Sharon F. Dodson’s building is perhaps the most embarrassing, given it’s within view of the glaring public. Moisture seeping into the building’s facade has eaten through thick layers of plaster in the main reception area — all the way through to the brick exterior. Mold is also present.

Moisture seeping into the Commissioner of Revenue office has eaten away the wall and exposed the exterior brick. Photo by John McCaslin

After Dodson herself pointed out this disintegrated lower half of the wall between the reception counter and Deputy Revenue Commissioner Mary Graham’s desk, she led the supervisors — Roger Welch, Chris Parrish, Michael Biniek, Ron Frazier and John Lesinski — into the adjacent front office that stores the county’s tax and other records. There she revealed additional water damage, including to the wooden floors.

Several of the supervisors commented that the brick exteriors of most if not all of courthouse row were obviously in need of repointing.

“Every building is taking water,” commented Ricky Jenkins, who as the county’s maintenance manager personally led Friday’s almost day-long inspections, which began at County Administrator Debbie Keyser’s unique dollhouse-like office.

“This one’s rough,” he said, explaining that the small wooden structure is in need of exterior wood replacement and painting, a new roof, a new furnace, crawl space insulation, electrical updates, and carpet replacement. There’s been talk of late among the supervisors to provide Keyser with a larger and better equipped office, which would include a much-needed reception area.

As the tour proceeded towards the Rappahannock Sheriff’s office, Frazier, who represents the Jackson District, reminded his fellow supervisors that the roof above the relatively new (only 7 years old) brick addition to the office is “already leaking.”

Deputy Revenue Commissioner Mary Graham has a large hole in the wall next to her desk. Photo by John McCaslin

“Water is coming down into the building because of improper installation,” Frazier pointed out. A visit to the office’s oversized restroom reveals visible water damage to two walls.

This and other shoddy construction is what happens when it’s “done on the cheapest end possible,” Jenkins remarked during the ensuing conversation.

Here’s a complete list of written comments presented by Jenkins and Keyser to the supervisors surrounding the most urgent building needs:

Treasurer’s office: “Remove mold/repair plaster/paint interior/replace railings/new shutters.”

Revenue office: “Point up brick/remove mold/re-glaze windows/repair plaster/paint interior and exterior/new shutters.”

Voter Registrar’s office: “Brick damage, need engineer to evaluate/sheetrock repairs/paint interior and exterior.”

Courthouse: “Electrical upgrade/replace ramp/repair damaged wood/re-glaze windows/paint roof/repaint interior and exterior/upgrade judge’s chamber bath/remove mold/repair plaster/replace or clean carpeting/replace damaged shutters.”

Clerk’s office: “Repaint building/repair waterproofing of basement [editor’s note: some of the county’s oldest records dating to 1834 are stored here]/replace brick entry/replace back stoop.”

Sheriff’s office: “Repair or replace roof/repair damaged sheetrock/paint interior and exterior buildings.”

County Attorney/Commonwealth Attorney’s office: “Replace bay windows/repair cornice/paint interior and exterior/remove shrubbery and replace with concrete walks.”

There is plenty of upkeep required away from the courthouse complex as well, including the Flatwood and Amissville refuse and recycling plants, the RAWL dog shelter, Scrabble School [the historic African-American school-turned-museum needs a new roof and front doors], Amissville Ruritan Building, Rappahannock Visitor’s Center, and the Maintenance Building,

At the county library, the building and roof both need to be painted, windows need to be repaired or replaced, carpeting needs to be replaced, and the boiler/HVAC system is 25 years old. The foundation is also leaking.

Surrounding the already-proposed library expansion, the children’s section needs to be enlarged and the so-called community room — used heavily for public functions and meeting space — is “not sufficient for the needs of the county,” the supervisors were told.

Commissioner of the Revenue Sharon F. Dodson pointing out water damage to county supervisors. Photo by John McCaslin

Furthermore, three county buildings are not ADA compliant, besides the administrator’s office the county extension office, and a former church next door to the administrator’s office on Gay Street that houses the popular RAAC Theatre. The ADA law affects, among others, “all state and local governments agencies” and all “businesses operating for the benefit of the public.”

“RAAC is not insulated, no bathroom, and not ADA compliant,” the supervisors were told in writing, and the “entire building” needs painting.

Other “issues” spelled out for the supervisors:

* County lacks storage; paying current rates for storage in the Kramer Building [almost directly across Gay Street from the administrator’s office].

* County is renting versus buying; county doesn’t have the ability to expand for new employees if needed.

* County lacks a space for meetings; puts wear and tear on the courthouse — security issues.

* County needs to consider a space for a future judge’s needs.

As 2018’s budget negotiations continue, the supervisors will now decide how best to budget for the more urgent needs and repairs. What they no doubt did discover in their tour, which was suggested and organized by Keyser, is that they can’t kick the can down the road too much further.

About John McCaslin 448 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at