Committee Asked To Decide Fate of Courthouse
By Mike Scott
Clark County’s 137-year-old courthouse took center stage again Tuesday evening, February 24, as around thirty area residents gathered in the courtroom with the current and former Clark County Commissioners, their appointed “Courthouse Committee” and engineers from S&V Consultants of Jefferson City. The members of the committee are Chuck Braxton, Cinda James, Paul O’Day, Sherry Brunk, Shawn McAfee, Jay Meinhardt and John Winkleman.
The meeting was the first for the committee in nearly a year, and Roger Verslues of S&V Consultants presented a preliminary draft report comparing restoration and new building construction.
Commissioner Jerry Neyens explained to all attending that the committee would review the report and ask questions, and then be asked to vote on which way to proceed. Audience members could ask questions at the end of the meeting.
“Hopefully the information we passed out to you will help you reach a decision tonight,” said Verslues. S&V presented preliminary estimates for renovating both the courthouse and the Hiller Building across the street, along with costs building new buildings with approximately twenty percent more space.
“We want to look twenty to thirty years ahead to what your needs will be,’ Verslues said.
Restoring the current courthouse itself is estimated to cost $2,157, 410. That restoration would essentially gut the existing structure, and restore it to as original a condition as possible, which would be required as the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“State and federal officials don’t expect anybody to spend more money than the building is worth to renovate,” Verslues said, adding that there is a process to remove the building from the National Register listing, which would then allow it to be demolished and rebuilt.
The cost to restore the Hiller Building would add another $1.9 million dollars, making the total restoration price tag exceed four million dollars.
The cost to build a new, two-story courthouse with a full basement and expanded parking would be approximately 3.5 million dollars. Verslues envisions the project to include a “visitor center”, which would incorporate some of the existing memorabilia from the current courthouse, such as the cupola, front open staircase, and the judge’s bench.
A new building could also save fifty percent or more in energy costs.
Committee member Shawn McAfee said that he would like to see a concept drawing before he would vote either way on the issue, and other committee members agreed.
“When the new school was built, a lot of voters were surprised and disappointed that it was steel building. We don’t want that to happen here,” McAfee said.
The committee has agreed to meet again on March 10 to review that concept drawing and possibly make a decision which way to proceed.
Under either plan, Clark County voters would have to approve the county seeking a bond to pay for the project. A bond might be repaid through a utility tax, real estate taxes, or a sales tax.
“Any way it might work, we, the taxpayers, will be paying for it,” said Neyens. The commissioners are seeking information from bonding companies to see current bond rates, and how much the county could borrow for the project.
The commissioners would like to a bond issue before the voters in a June election, with the bond issue being the only issue on the ballot. That gives them only about three more weeks to decide on which approach they want to pursue. If approved then, the commissioners are hoping to apply for federal stimulus dollars to aid in the project. Next week, the commissioners are going to Jefferson City to meet with state officials to discuss funding options.
The committee will meet again at 5:00PM on Tuesday, March 10.
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