Compromise Reached On Courthouse?
By Mike Scott
Is it the solution that will get voters to approve the construction of a new Clark County Courthouse?
At a marathon meeting held Tuesday evening, June 2, the Clark County Commissioners’ “Courthouse Committee” voted to recommend to the Commissioners that the county build a new $3.7 million dollar courthouse building immediately to the east and south of the current structure.
Groups in favor of keeping the existing 138-year old structure would have until six months after the new building was completed to develop a good-faith plan and find funding to save the historic old courthouse. If that effort fails, the county plans to demolish the building.
The Tuesday meeting was again held in the courtroom. The Clark County Commissioners, committee members, and members of the public heard a presentation from Eric Westhues, an architect with Connell Architecture from Columbia, Missouri.
“We visited with the Commissioners, and got a good idea of the space you have and what you really need,” Westhues said.
Westhues presented preliminary architectural drawings of the project.
“Our approach is the provide you with a minimum of a 100 year solution,’ Westhues said.
“There are three options: A-Build a new building on a new site; B-Build an addition to this building and renovate the current building; and C-Build a new building on this site.” Westhues explained. Option A was abandoned because there is no other realistic site available. Option B has a price tag of $4.8 million dollars, and Option C will cost $3.7 million.
Whether built as an addition or a separate new building, the preliminary plans call for a two-story building with a complete basement, with 8760 square feet per floor. All the county offices would be moved into the new structure.
“It really is the goal of the commissioners to have all the county offices under one roof,” Eastern District Commissioner Jerry Neyens said.
The courtroom would be on the second floor of the new building, and have many modern features recommended by judicial guidelines. Courtroom safety is a nationwide concern, and Judge John Moon noted that the current courtroom falls below safety recommendations.
The design separates public areas of the building from those requiring more security, such as a jury room, judges’ chambers and a holding room.
“The size requirement of the second floor drive what the size of the building will be,” explained Westhues. Other county offices would be located on the first floor, and the basement would be used for storage and for the University of Missouri Extension Office.
What about the old building?
Option B, with its $4.8 million dollar price tag, includes about one million dollars for rehabilitating the historic building. The foundation would be reinforced, and the exterior repaired to the 1934 stucco. Westhues said he would prefer replacing the original brick façade, but the cost was much higher. Inside, repairs would be made, and it would look appropriate for the period. Lead and asbestos abatement would be required.
The building would be better insulated, and have a new roof, plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, but no county offices would remain in the building.
Westhues visited with Mark Miles, Director of State Historic Preservation Office, to get their commitment to the rehabilitation project.
“There was no commitment for 1.1 million, or even $500,000. They just made a commitment to work hard and do whatever they can to save the building,” Westhues said.
A Compromise Solution?
“We don’t have the money to build a new building and rehabilitate the old courthouse,” committee chairman Shawn McAfee pointed out. At a previous meeting, the committee was told that its maximum combined ½ cent sales tax and general obligation bond capacity was four million dollars.
“So we can build a new building and leave this one site here. Maybe someone can come up with the money in the future to take care of it,” McAfee said. “Regardless, we cannot do it all.”
Doris Krueger of Clark County agrees. “Why can’t we build the new building, and later do something with this one?” she asked.
Joanne Ragan, a member of the group opposing the demolition of the historic courthouse, told the commissioners, “I understand you have inherited a lot of these problems. But if there’s a will, there’s a way.”
“If keeping this building will help the voters pass a new building, leave it here,” committee member Cinda James said.
“A lot of people want to see it (the old courthouse) remain,” said Chuck Braxton. “If they can come up with the funds, by all means let they can have it.”
After discussion, the committee voted unanimously to build a new building to the east and south. Offices would remain in the current courthouse during construction, eliminating the cost of temporarily relocated offices and employees during construction. The motion also recommended that the current building be demolished six months after the new building is completed, unless a preservation group has a good-faith plan and financing to maintain the building.
The Next Step?
The Clark County Commissioners will have ballot language written to seek voter approval, which would require the passage of both a sales tax and an increase in property taxes through a general obligation bond. Voters will need to approve the bond funding by a 4/7ths vote, and the sales tax by a simple majority.
Once the ballot language is finalized, petitions will be circulated to put the issues on the November 3 ballot. Approximately 400 valid signatures will be required to place the measure on the ballot.