This story first appeared in the Aug. 11 issue of the Community Voice newspaper. For your own subscription, call 270-384-9454.
Editor’s note: I am a member of the committee that is helping the county plan improvements for the historic courthouse, so this article is written by some- one whose opinion is quite clear on the matter. My goal is to make this article informative and truthful so our readers will know what activity is taking place and why.
I encourage you to watch the fiscal court meeting video available on the Com- munity Voice Facebook page to see the presentation and the court’s actions in their entirety.
Some people have wait- ed for 12 years for a vote that came from the fiscal court Monday night. A group of those patient citizens were in the audience and applauded after the court voted to hire an architect firm that will oversee the deconstruction of the “wings” of the courthouse.
The deconstruction is really the first step in restoring the historical building. The additions were built in 1974 – and apologies to the builders of that day – but they are nothing like the original structure, which could possibly stand tall until the end of time.
The fiscal court has set aside $500,000 toward the renovation of the courthouse, but magistrates have also made it clear they want to know just what they are getting into before they approve any actual deconstruction or renovation.
Numerous people have been involved over the years and donated hundreds of hours hoping to preserve the historic building since the last offices moved out of the facility in 2009. It was determined through those efforts that taking down the 1974 additions would be more beneficial than an expensive renovation.
Those individuals, through local organizations and county committees, always ended their efforts due to one major barrier: the lack of funding.
The fiscal court solved that problem in May, however, when magistrates voted 5-2 for a motion by Daryl Flatt to set aside $500,000 in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding for the courthouse. The vote included approval of the bidding process to take off the wings.
Since then, I have been working with LeeAnn Jessee, director of the public library; and Shannon Sexton, a local business owner; as the unofficial “courthouse committee.”
On Monday night, we presented the court with a recommendation for hiring an architect, but not before we talk- ed about other funding prospects. As a committee we have researched (we actually started in 2019) potential grants and other ideas that have been thrown around that would fund the court- house renovation. We all three agreed that using ARPA funds is probably the one and only opportunity our county government will have to take care of this historic building that stands as the center of our town – which they own –and if the project is delayed, the state of disrepair will require the county to dip into local funds sooner rather than later.
Magistrates for the most part appeared excited to be able to fund the project, and everyone in attendance voted to hire South Central Design, of Berea, to oversee the renovation.
Terry Hadley made the motion to approve the architect and said he wanted it to get start- ed as quickly as possible. Flatt seconded the motion and talked about the need for more office space for county offices as a potential use for the building. He also said he believed the removal of the additions would improve visibility, especially in the direction of Jamestown St. Flatt urged the committee to move the project along as quickly as possible because of concerns about pieces falling off the additions, naming Downtown Days as a particular safety concern.
Sammy Baker and Chris Reeder asked questions about the overall project and how much the committee expect- ed it would take to have the building completely renovated and ready to use. They voiced concerns about using funds for the deconstruction but not being able to use the building if total ren- ovation costs more than $500,000.
Tony Wehrle, architect with Central Kentucky Design, said he has only walked through the building once, but he believes the county should be able to complete the deconstruction phase as well as make needed repairs to the remaining structure with the funds that are set aside.
Improvements for the historic portion of the structure would mostly be cosmetic, although there is always concern about issues with H/ VAC and other amenities that could be affect- ed by sitting mostly idle for more than a decade. Details about that aspect of the renovations – or phase 2 – will come after the deconstruction phase is bid and the cost is revealed.
All magistrates in attendance voted in favor of the project and voted to authorize Judge Executive Gale Cowan to sign a contract once it is reviewed by the county attorney. Attending the meeting were Had- ley, Flatt, Reeder, Baker and Billy Coffey. Judge Cowan announced that Greg Caldwell was not able to attend after his wife was hospitalized.
By Sharon Burton