Battle Lines Taking Shape In Courthouse Fight
By Mike Scott
Three separate events concerning the future of Clark County’s 1871 Courthouse took place in Kahoka last week, and the battle lines are now taking shape between the opposing viewpoints.
On Tuesday evening, June 23, the “Courthouse Committee” met to turn in petitions to the Clark County Commissioners. The committee had previously voted to construct a new courthouse, and demolish the existing buildings unless private money became available to restore and maintain the 1871 structure.
Signatures from approximately 400 voters are needed to place the issue on the ballot. The petition question read:
Shall Clark County, Missouri, issue its general obligation bonds in the amount of $4,000,000 for the purpose of constructing, furnishing and equipping a new courthouse on the courthouse square to consolidate county offices, and paying the cost of removing the courthouse and Hiller Building?
“My understanding is that there were over 400 signatures turned in before tonight, so it looks like it will go on the ballot,” said Committee Chairman Shawn McAfee. As of Monday afternoon, County Clerk Leih Ann Hayden was still in the process of verifying the signatures on the petitions.
The committee took the next step in its quest for a new building by transforming itself from an advisory role into that of a campaign committee, electing Cinda James as the Treasurer of the new committee.
“The biggest thing we have to do is to educate people on what will happen and why,” said McAfee. “Part of that education will be telling them what it will cost each taxpayer. Even though times are hard, it’s the best time to build because we will get very competitive bids.”
“I would recommend that people the who want to restore the courthouse should focus their efforts on finding ways to do that, rather than stopping this project,” McAfee concluded.
The committee will meet again after Labor Day.
On Wednesday, the Clark County Commissioners hosted an “Open House” and the courthouse, and top-to-bottom tours were given to show citizens the condition of the building, and what recent stabilization repairs have been made.
On Thursday night, June 25, Carla Derrick, Joann Ragan, Linda Plenge and Marvis Trump hosted yet another meeting at the C.A.R.E. Building in Kahoka, inviting state experts, as well as people involved in the restoration of the Ralls County Courthouse in New London..
“We feel passionately that we want to save the courthouse,” Derrick said.
The first speaker of the evening was Mark Miles, Director of Missouri’s State Historic Preservation Office.
“Your courthouse is not in the best of shape,” said Miles. “But it’s not in the worst of shape, either.”
Miles explained that his office had provided a $57,000 emergency stabilization grant in 2008. One of the strings attached to the grant was a preservation covenant, and that was signed by the Clark County Commissioners in office at the time.
“That covenant is a mandate that the county explore every alternative before considering demolition. I’m convinced that a solution can be found to utilize the building. We have a say in this process because of the covenant that was signed.”
Miles suggested a “middle ground” of rehabilitating the existing building, and constructing a new annex.
“This is a tough decision, and I know tough decisions can sometimes tear people apart. I hope that won’t happen here,” Miles said.
Former Clark County Commissioner Wayne Blum noted that an effort in the 1980’s to establish a maintenance fund for the building was overwhelmingly defeated by the voters. They asked the state for help at that time, and received none.
Ron Leake of the Ralls County Historical Society explained that their courthouse was renovated for $1.9 million dollars, funded by a one-half cent sales tax. Architects from Klinger and Associates in Quincy provided details about that project, which modernized the heating, cooling and electrical needs while maintaining respect for the historical character of the building.
The final speaker of the evening was Bill Hart, Field Representative of Missouri Preservation, who said that Clark County has one of a very few remaining courthouses built in the 1870’s
“Our hope is to advocate for a happy medium between the historic importance and modern needs,” Hart said.
If County Clerk Leih Ann Hayden certifes enough signatures, the issue will be on the November ballot.