Shelby County Commissioners approve funding master plan for future of 1913 Courthouse Annex
The Shelby County Commissioners' Court last week unanimously approved retaining a consulting firm to develop a master plan for renovating the 1913 Courthouse Annex building on the historic 1885 Courthouse Square.
Commissioners approved spending $40,000 of the $50,000 earlier budgeted in the current fiscal year on the project. The Dallas-based firm of Architexas was awarded the contract upon the recommendation of Teddy Hopkins and the Shelby County Historical Commission.
The structure has been vacant and for the past 23 years, Hopkins said.
“This county should seize the moment,” Hopkins said. “Today is a day we need to jumpstart things and get this rolling. If we delay this or see if there's some other way to hide it, that's just not going to happen.
“We've gotten to a point where we are ready to consider entering into a contract with Architexas,” he said. Hopkins said the historical commission would eventually like to the the Shelby County History Museum housed in the structure with exhibits on each of the towns in the county featured.
“With the historical courthouse square being the geographical center of the county gives every town equal footing on sharing their history in one central place,” Hopkins said. “It's going to take the county's support to get everybody involved.”
He said moving forward with the master plan appears to be the best way to both preserve the structure while making it a viable space for the county's history.
“If one considers not doing something with it now, then 20 years from now it's still going to be sitting there vacant, not changed,” Hopkins said. “No. 1, because it is a state antiquities landmark, and No. 2, it's on the National Register (of Historic Places), and No. 3, because it's on the town square.
“You can't cover it up, you can't tear it down,” he said. “You've got to do something with it.”
He said the Shelby County Historical Commission is all about taking care of the historical context of the county.
“We've got to do something with that building and what better thing to do than put the museum in it,” Hopkins said.
Jay Firsching, senior associate with Architexas, provided an overview of what the master plan would include.
“In simple terms, what we'll do is come in with a team of consultants, including mechanical, plumbing and structural engineers,” Firsching said. “The real purpose of this is two-fold, first so that you have sort of an instruction manual on how to proceed, if you choose to do so, and also to give you an idea of what the cost is.”
The plan can be used for fundraising, to seek grants and other funding purposes.
“The first part is that we do a study of the building,” Firsching said. That study will review the original intent the building was built for while keeping in mind stipulations and requirements of state historic agencies, since it is a designated landmark, on what can and what cannot be done.
The plans will also include what needs to be done in order to get the structure up to current building standards, he said. That could include adding an elevator and the addition of entrances and exits to make sure it meets fire codes.
Firsching said while the plans will not include architectural plans, but it will include schematics which could be used by the county in conjunction with architects in the future.
“You have one of the best downtown squares in the state of Texas,” he said. Having a master plan will help make the downtown Center square an economic enhancement rather than having the 1913 courthouse continue being a liability.
Charles Barr, Pct. 3 Shelby County Commissioner said the master plan should provide potential grant providers and other donors a good idea of what the future of the structure could be. He noted that Panola County did not take steps years ago to preserve that county's historic courthouse.
In conversations with residents and officials in Panola County now, they feel letting their old courthouse be demolished was a mistake.
“We just want to make sure you're satisfied this is the next step we should take?” Barr said. Hopkins said the historic commission strongly feels moving forward with the master plan is the best way to go.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Tom Bellmyer said the fact the city of Center is moving forward with investing in its streetscape project makes this an ideal time for the county to do what it can to preserve the courthouse square's history.
Firsching said while the document Architexas will prepare for the county will be an aid in raising funds to preserve the 1912 Courthouse Annex, he feels it would be unrealistic for officials to think they will be able to raise all the money necessary from grants.
When asked what he estimated it might take to bring the structure into a shape to use in the future, Firsching said it is hard to pinpoint without the review the plan will provide done. But he said the county could spend between $2 million and $4 million depending on what direction the county decides to go.