Join the discussion on this commentary by using the Facebook app to the right.
On July 23, the Navarro County Commissioners Court will be making a very significant decision regarding the life of our courthouse.
We’ve been awarded the Texas Historical Commission (THC) Courthouse Restoration Program Grant (approximately $4.5 million) to help with 50 percent of the cost of the projected restoration.
Interest rates are at historic lows so the county can benefit by selling bonds now thus taking advantage of rates likely lowest since the courthouse was built. Our tax rate would not be affected by the project as the same 2 cent dedicated “debt retirement” portion would remain unchanged.
We have the opportunity of a lifetime to do the project at the least cost to taxpayers.
The projected restoration would be replacing the 107 year old plumbing, electrical systems, the 50-plus year old air conditioning system and elevator, while using today's technology and materials. Also on the list to be replaced or repaired are floors, some structural problems, windows, and the plaster walls containing some amount of imbedded asbestos and not painted in over 20 years because of it. They have assured us it’s safe as long as we don’t scrape or sand the walls and ceilings. That’s why the interior looks as it does now.
And yes, we would have to move to another location during the two-year restoration. The logistics and costs of that move are also being considered as the state does not share in those expenses.
The present courthouse is the sixth such structure for Navarro County, and replaced a much smaller one built in 1883 which only lasted 21 years before soil shifting and foundation problems led to it being condemned in 1904. Completed by late 1905, the present courthouse has done remarkably well. But that soil movement has caused some floor problems and likely some of the plumbing issues, besides the extensive (and prone to corrosion) use of cast iron pipe in plumbing drains in the walls and underground and its tendency to break or crack under pressure, as well as corrode and plug up.
Because the cost to do this type of work continues to rise I feel we would be doing a great disservice to those who come after us by failing to take advantage of this opportunity for substantial co-funding by the state and low interest rates on bond funding. I would hate to see us have to bear the total cost later because we failed to accept the grant now.
The results of proceeding with the restoration would be a beautiful, less costly to maintain structure for the future. It would be much more energy efficient as well with modern systems utilized.
We have been told by both the Texas Historic Commission and State Rep. Byron Cook that there is no assurance there will be any state money in the next round of the THC Program in two years, or perhaps in the foreseeable future at all. If we decline this grant we likely will miss out altogether, leaving ourselves to continue to patch up and use it as is, with the “total” cost on the county.
We are now running more court proceedings (including jury trials) than ever before in our history and with the greater number of people using the facilities, plumbing, air conditioning, and electrical problems can shut us down. I can foresee the day when we have to close the building and send everyone home while we call in plumbers, electricians, or air conditioning technicians to do what they can to get us going again by the next morning, assuming they can. Unless you work there daily and are involved as I am in dealing with those issues you may not understand what we do to keep it going.
Economically, other counties who have taken advantage of the co-funding by the state, and have done a full restoration, have seen an influx of tourism wherein people come from all over the nation to see “The Historic Courthouses of Texas” thus benefiting the community economically. Also, during the restoration the construction crews often live in the community, buying from local merchants and material suppliers. Local labor and sub contractors are used as well.
Restored courthouses also regain their popularity for community activities, including public meetings, picnics, special events, weddings, and reunions. There is just something special about having an event at an historic courthouse, especially one that has been restored.
One example is the Denton County Courthouse restored in 2004. Frequently it’s the site of community events such as their recent “Elvis on the Square” music event. Approximately 400 to 500 people came with lawn chairs and blankets, strollers, and children to enjoy the food and music.
I would certainly not want this structure to go the way of the Carnegie Library that was torn down because of its poor, unsafe, condition years ago, with only a mural to depict what once was there. This courthouse is the responsibility of Navarro County. We should all rally around seeing that it remains and retains its usefulness for those who come after us.
Navarro County was among the first counties established after Texas won independence from Mexico. In fact, Navarro County originally included what is now Ellis, and Tarrant counties. Our 107 year old courthouse represents us. It is the symbol of justice, civil order, and freedom in Texas as our county is named for the statesman and signer and of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Jose Antonio Navarro. Navarro County is “basic” to Texas.
I know there are those who virtually never come to the courthouse (or only when they have to) who could care less about it. But our courthouse also represents and reflects the degree of pride our community has within itself.
I encourage citizens to call the County Commissioners Court (903-654-3030) and voice their support for this project. This simply may be the “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the state to share the cost of restoration of this magnificent structure so that we may continue to use it for generations to come.
H.M. Davenport Jr. is Navarro County Judge.