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Courthouse Committee Votes To Replace Building

Clark County’s courtroom was again full as local residents attended a public meeting of the Courthouse Committee, a group of citizens assembled by the Clark County Commissioners to help decided the future of the 137 year old courthouse.

“We’ve handed out a draft copy.  It’s not a blueprint, it’s just an idea.  The committee asked to see a picture of what a new building might look like,” said Commissioner Jerry Neyens.

“What we’re asking you to do is decide…

Shall we do nothing?

Shall we build a new building?

Shall we restore the building?” Neyens said to the committee.

Committee member Chuck Braxton asked if the cost estimates were reasonably accurate

“Renovation is really a guesstimate,” answered Neyens.  “You really don’t know everything that you’re getting into.  New construction figures are a pretty hard figure.  It’s the number of square feet times the price per square foot.”

Neyens told the committee that the county would be eligible to fund the project through a bond issue, probably over 20 years, in the amount of $4 million.  He noted that it would most likely have to be repaid with a property tax or utility tax, as new sales tax revenue probably would not cover the bond payments.  Any bond issue would need voter approval.

“I believe a property tax will be five to ten times hard to sell to the voters,” committee member Shawn McAfee said.

As discussion wound down, and the voting was near, several committee members expressed their opinions

“We need to strongly consider what the voters might approve,” said Paul O’Day.

Cinda James said,” In your personal life, if it was your house, which way would you go.  I know what I would do.”

“I had in my mind from the start that if it cost a million to restore it, do it,” said Shawn McAfee.  “I’m not sure 2 million for this building is the right thing to do.  I really struggle with keeping an antiquated building, and we still won’t have enough space.  There’s a lot of money to be spent, and you’ll still have an old building when you’re done.”

“Whatever we do, we need to have a maintenance fund to take care of any problems that might come up,” said Chuck Braxton.  “We can’t let little problems become big problems.”

After discussion finished, the committee voted unanimously to replace the building. 

After the vote, Jerry Neyens allowed those in the audience to speak.

Donna Oilar spoke first about issues in the Hiller Building;

“Almost on a daily basis, we have either water issues or heating issues.  We’ve had gas leaks and unexplained odors.  When the heat is on, there is a stench.  Nobody in this room thinks any more of this building than I do, but there is a time when the usefulness has been reached, ” Oilar said.

After the meeting, Bill Hart, field representative with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told The Media that he had a structural engineer look at the building, and found no serious problems.  He also believes that the restoration cost estimate is too high.

Further, Hart state that the Commission signed a covenant with the Missouri State Historic Preservation office when they received the emergency stabilization grant in 2008.  According to Hart, that covenant requires the county to maintain the courthouse.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, March 24, at 5PM.  A representative of the bonding company will be on hand to discuss financing options.