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Courthouse Plan Criticized
On March 10, with minimal opportunity for public input, the “Courthouse Committee” appointed by the Clark County Commission voted unanimously to demolish the historic Clark County Courthouse. A beloved icon in Kahoka for nearly 140 years, it is one of the few remaining examples of Missouri’s iSyos era courthouses and is worthy of saving. Once rehabilitated, the building could remain an asset to the community for another 140 years, whether housing government functions or serving another role. Regardless of its final use, this community icon should not be discarded without the opportunity for full public discourse.
In 2006, the Clark County Courthouse was placed on Missouri Preservation’s annual list of the state’s Most Endangered historic sites. In that same year, a group of preservation professionals were brought to Kahoka by Missouri Preservation free of charge to assess problems with the building and make recommendations. If carried out two years ago, these measures could have had a significant impact on the condition of the courthouse and forestalled last week’s hasty and uninformed decision to destroy the building.
Many Clark County residents may not be aware of a significant investment into the courthouse recently provided by the State. In 2008, the county requested and received a $57,500 emergency grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to assist with courthouse stabilization measures. Not only would demolition be a waste of this investment of taxpayer money, it may violate the terms of an agreement signed by Clark County when they accepted this grant. Although Missouri Preservation brought this to the attention of Commissioner Jerry Neyens before the March 10 meeting of the “Courthouse Committee,” no mention has been made anywhere about the legal ramifications of demolition of the Clark County Courthouse.
While the County Commissioners contend that rehabilitation of the courthouse would be too expensive, Missouri Preservation believes that the estimate given during the March 10th meeting is inaccurate. We brought a structural engineer familiar with historic buildings to examine the courthouse, again at no cost to the public. The engineer determined that the building is structurally sound and could reasonably be renovated at a cost of between $100 and $150 per square foot. At the absolute high end, this works out to around $1.5 million for the courthouse and an additional $1.5 million for the annex. This is over $1 million dollars less than the $4.1 million the Commission is being told it would cost to rehabilitate these two buildings, and less than the $3.5 million estimate to construct a new courthouse.
Missouri hasn’t lost a courthouse building in nearly fifteen years, and this comes at a time when surrounding communities are reaping the economic benefits of reinvesting in their historic downtowns and public buildings. In our work with communities across the state, Missouri Preservation has seen time and again the positive role rehabilitation of a key structure can play in catalyzing downtown reinvestment. Tourism dollars closely follow cultural and historic assets like the Clark County Courthouse, which could be adapted to a new use even if plans go forward on the construction of a new judicial center.
The citizens of Clark County should ask their County Commissioners to examine all possible alternatives before destroying your historic courthouse. One budget estimate is not enough to make an informed decision, particularly when the public will be asked to foot the bill through a bond issue, and alternatives to the current proposal do exist. The Clark County Courthouse building can continue to lead a useful life for years to come while reflecting the community’s strong traditions and providing a tangible link to Kahoka’s past. It helps define the unique sense of place that is Kahoka, and once it’s gone, it can never be replaced.
Missouri Preservation/National Trust for Historic Preservation
Clark County Commissioners Respond
We are writing in reply to the letter of Bill Hart of the Missouri Preservation/National Trust for Historic Preservation concerning the Clark County Court House. The decision of whether to repair or replace our Court House was based on many factors. The physical condition of the Court House has been a concern for many years and the Commission began working with its engineer on the issue several years ago. In 2008 plans were developed to stabilize the rapid deterioration of the Court House which was becoming more and more evident due to falling plaster, widening cracks in interior as well as exterior walls, the building moving away from the elevator tower and various other structural problems too numerous to mention. The $57,500 stabilization expenditure was simply a band-aid to provide basic safety for those using and working in the building.
Our engineer, Roger Verslues, has spent many days studying the conditions of both the Court House and Annex Building in order to determine accurately what needs to be done if the buildings were to be preserved and what the costs of doing so will be. Missouri Preservation’s engineer referred to in Mr. Hart’s letter was shown through and around both buildings and spent less than an hour total in both buildings. We thus believe the cost estimates provided to us by Mr. Verslues are more accurate and trustworthy than simply the range of figures of $100 to $150 per square foot referred to by Mr. Hart. Thus far we have not been provided any firm plan or figures for comparison by Missouri Preservation’s engineer.
There are many other long term savings we expect to achieve with a new facility. Utilities in a new energy efficient building alone are expected to save $25 000.00 or more per year over the current buildings. There is a need for all county offices to be located in one building. At present there is a great deal of inefficiency having the various county offices housed In two separate buildings. This condition would be solved with a new facility.
It further needs to be kept in mind that a committee of nine individuals from throughout the county have met with the engineer, asked all the questions they thought appropriate, and considered all the issues of whether to preserve the existing buildings or build a new facility. That committee has met many times over the past several months and considered allviewpoints expressed with respect to the issue. The committee also considered not only the difference in expected costs of the two alternatives but the savings and efficiencies to be gained from a new facility, The committee’s vote was unanimous to recommend to us that we vote to build a new Court House for our County.
We believe that while it might be desirable from a historical preservation aspect to keep the old Court House building., it is certainly not a wise use of funds from the County’s standpoint and not something the County can realistically afford, However, if there is an organization or individual willing to step forward and assume the financial obligation and burden of such a proposal, we will certainly keep an open mind and give the proposal serious consideration.
Finally, we look forward to working with all citizens for the long term benefit of our County. Thank you to you for publishing this letter and to them for their consideration.
Paul Allen -Presiding Commissioner
Jerome Neyens-Eastern District
Roger Sedore-Western District Commissioner