County Commissioners have no specific plans to modify the 150 year-old courthouse, or to build a new one, but they and county officials are becoming increasingly aware of the shortcomings of the old three-story building.
The courthouse is perhaps best known for its ground-floor entrances on three levels, but the building’s most unique characteristic is now almost a moot one — two of the five entrances are now closed to the public because of security concerns. Security tags are required to enter the courthouse through the rear entrance on the third floor and the second-floor entrance near the sheriff’s department.
Storage is also a huge issue for the county. Boxes of records are stored in every available space, virtually unsecured, and others are stashed in buildings away from the courthouse proper. The current board of commissioners have turned their attention to possible means of addressing energy inefficiencies in the building, which has decades-old windows in every office, old lighting fixtures and other money drains.
One possibility would be construction of an addition connecting the courthouse and 19th-century sheriff’s office on one or more levels. That, some officials believe, would be an effective means of improving court security conditions and would free up space now used for those purposes for other county government needs.
Commissioners have hinted they might consider using space freed up from their planned demolition of Veterans Memorial Hospital for some county government use, but have never mentioned leaving the historic courthouse unused. However, it is likely county government will give increased consideration to renovating it, or adding to it, to provide more efficient and secure court facilities.
Commissioners have acknowledged, too, that any proposal to raise funds for new construction would be a hard sell, and Commissioner Tim Ihle said last week commissioners have begun very preliminary discussions with other departments to determine how any available public funds could be best put to use in the long term, and serve the public in the most efficient way.