By Susan Gammage, Assistant Director, Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program
In November 2013, Navarro County citizens decidedly approved a $7.5 million bond referendum, of which $4.7 million was a local match for a Round VII $4.4 million Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program grant.
Just weeks before the bond election, a 100-year-old water pipe broke on an upper floor, flooding part of the courthouse and causing the county to shut down the building for two days while plumbers made repairs. Then, mere days after the successful outcome of the bond election, an electrical fire erupted in the county judge’s office. Although it was quickly extinguished, the blaze could have had devastating consequences.
With the bond election now passed, James Kirk, Navarro County’s director of maintenance, said he felt tremendously relieved knowing the county is committed to a major building overhaul, which will result in a newly renovated, water-tight building with updated plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems. He added that he “can see a light at the end of the long tunnel” of frequent and stop-gap repairs that ultimately cost the county extra money. County Judge H.M. Davenport believes “the public will be well pleased with the changes.”
Across Texas, many county officials and residents would likely agree that prior to undertaking the restoration of their courthouses through the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, the condition of their buildings was distressing. The listing of Texas’ courthouses on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1999 and again in 2012 attests to the poor condition of many of the state’s 240-plus historic courthouses.
“The projects that received major funding from our courthouse preservation program have fortunately addressed their buildings’ needs, and they’ve certainly found that maintenance of their courthouses is much easier,” says Sharon Fleming, director of the THC’s Architecture Division.
The concept that even newly restored buildings require regular active maintenance led to the creation of the Texas Courthouse Stewardship Program in 2005 by then-THC Commissioner Frank Gorman of El Paso. It is an essential piece of the THC’s strategy for preserving Texas courthouses.
The program provides education and assistance to counties in their efforts to provide regular, cyclical maintenance and properly address the ongoing care a historic building requires. The effort is also intended to protect the investment made by the state and counties in the grant-funded projects.
The program offers guidance to county judges, commissioners, and facilities managers through an annual workshop (sponsored by the Texas Land Title Association since 2007). The workshop features professional speakers and THC staff discussing issues identified as challenges by the attendees. Stewardship workshops have included sessions on pest management, maintenance of the grounds and trees, care of delicate clockworks, developing policies to manage use of the building and its square, and when to hire an architect.
In addition to conducting the workshops, THC program staff continue individual consultations with county representatives long after their buildings are restored. Many counties request guidance on best practices for maintenance, and require input on various issues that emerge.
“Under the preservation easements granted to the THC as part of the grant process, counties have a legal responsibility to care for their courthouses,” Fleming explains. “But beyond that, we all want to do the right thing to ensure their beauty and functionality continue for many decades to come.”
For more information about the program, visit our Texas Courthouse Stewardship webpage, or call 512.463.6094.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of The Medallion.
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