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Courthouse rehab is 3-stage process

GATESVILLE – The Gates County Board of Commissioners have opted to toss around some ideas before spending upwards of $3 million to rehabilitate the old county courthouse.

At their meeting here last week, the board discussed a pending contract with ClearScapes of Raleigh, the architectural firm they selected to perform the work on saving the historic courthouse, a 176-year-old facility that is showing its age.

County Manager Toby Chappell presented the company’s three-stage contract.

Phase one ($33,800 fee) includes determining the existing conditions of the building, a structural assessment and studies related to potential new uses and summarizing potential funding sources.

Phase two ($36,200 fee) details the selection of the re-use, schematic design, tax credit/grant applications and documents and administration for structural repairs.

The final phase is the actual repairs to the building. That construction phase is estimated in the $2.5 million range. The total project budget is in the range of $2.75 million to $3.2 million.

Commissioner Henry Jordan said phase one of the contract referenced part of the funds the county would expend on the project, to include a written summary that identifies potential funding sources.

“I’m for moving forward with phase one,” Jordan said.

“If we are to move forward, we need to identify a committee to work with them (ClearScapes) for identification of what it (the courthouse) will be used for,” Commission Chairman Graham Twine stressed. “None of this funding or the tax credits can be tapped until we have some type of idea of the direction we’re going in with this building.”

“That’s the whole problem here….identifying what you’re going to actually do,” said Commissioner John Hora. “On the next to last page (of the contract) they talk about a working construction budget in the range of $2 million to $2.5 million and a total budget of $2.7 million to $3.2 million. If that’s their projection right now, why don’t we implement phase two first and find out the tax applications aspects and see what we’ll be getting back.”

Hora noted that tax credits can be applied to the old courthouse in two ways – 20 percent from both the federal and state government if the facility produces income or a 30 percent credit from the state if the facility is non-income producing. Respectively, those credits could produce $1.2 million or $900,0000 based on a $3 million project.

“Let’s pay ClearScapes to see if we can get a tax credit and if we get that, we move (on the project),” Hora said.

“Suppose we didn’t find any tax credits and we’ve spent $69,000 (the combined price for phases one and two) compared to $33,000 (for phase one),” Jordan said. “They’ll have to do an existing condition structural assessment before they get to stage two.”

Twine suggested the board schedule a work session with ClearScapes to get an idea of the best place to start on this project.

The project includes the formation of a committee, comprised of local officials and citizens, to help develop ideas of what to do with the courthouse. Twine said the committee needs to be formed immediately.

“We can’t apply for tax credits until we have some ideas of what we’re going to do with that building,” Twine stressed. “Are we going to allow for office space there and lease it out or will we look at a museum there. We need some type of direction on this. ClearScapes said they need this information as well.”

“We’ll be well served to put a committee together before spending a whole bunch of money,” said Chappell.

“The number one thing is knowing what we’re going to do with the old courthouse,” Hora noted. “The second thing is getting input from our citizens to see how they feel about this. I don’t want to see us go down the same road we did with the library and spend unnecessary money. I still think we can transform the old courthouse into a nice library and with the $1.5 million (for new library construction), we’re already halfway there (with the projected $3 million for rehab to the old courthouse). I’d like to see what the architects will say if we told them we wanted to turn the old courthouse into a library and kill two birds with one stone.”

The board discussed holding a workshop, open to the public, in the late afternoon hours prior to their next scheduled meeting (7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18). Following that discussion, the board decided to meet at 5 p.m. on that day in a workshop format.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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