By Andy Rhodes, Managing Editor The Medallion
Maintaining a historic courthouse can be similar to household upkeep.
But instead of scheduling a new paint job for the front porch and window frames, there may be a clock tower or turret to consider. Homeowners might replace a hot water heater after 20 years, while courthouses may need a new ground-source heat pump.
The point being, if you’re aware of the cyclical needs of your structure’s components and systems, you can extend its longevity while preventing costly replacements and repairs.
Similarly, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) realized the need to create a separate maintenance-related program to complement its Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP). The THC developed the Texas Courthouse Stewardship Program in 2005 to prevent the newly restored state landmarks from returning to a state of decay or deterioration.
With 63 courthouses fully restored, the THCPP has played a significant role ensuring that the restored structures and the records they protect are sustainable for generations to come.
“These buildings need to be cared for after the restoration to prevent them from falling back into disrepair,” says THCPP Director Sharon Fleming. “It’s important to remember—for any building—stewardship is an ongoing effort.”
As part of the stewardship program, THC staff architects help counties address issues by offering professional advice on how to best preserve the building. Useful information is also available on the program’s web page. These valuable tools allow county staff to plan in advance for budgeting and construction projects.
The THC’s courthouse architectural staff can also assist counties with developing a cyclical maintenance plan for immediate and long-term care of their historic buildings and sites.
This assistance has been bolstered by important statewide partnerships. The THC and the Texas Land Title Association (TLTA), a statewide member-based trade organization for title agents, developed a workshop series in 2007 for the stewardship program. This initiative, arising from Senate Bill 1496 and passed into law in 2005, provides assistance and training for county officials and facilities managers with an emphasis on a commitment to routine maintenance programs.
“I want to thank the Texas Historical Commission for the important work they’ve done in revitalizing our treasured Texas courthouses—their passion and dedication to this project is a true gift to the citizens of our state,” said TLTA President James Dudley. “The Texas Land Title Association is grateful for the continued opportunity to partner with them in providing Texas counties with the tools they need to be good stewards of these beautiful buildings that are the heart and soul of our communities across the state.”
The TLTA-sponsored workshops, available for counties involved with the THCPP, offer an opportunity for dialogue between county representatives at specialized sessions, often helping to solve similar technical issues. Previous workshop session titles include Courthouse Security, Keeping Doors and Windows in Shape, and Making Time for Preventive Maintenance While Putting Out Everyday Fires. Workshop attendees typically include a facility manager and an elected official; as funding allows, hotel and travel costs may be reimbursed for up to two participants per county.
So far, the THC-TLTA partnership has resulted in a dozen workshops representing over 140 training hours to more than 500 attendees, including four regional workshops throughout the state in 2015 and 2016.
“From the beginning of this project, we felt our mutual affinity for these wonderful buildings could lead to a collaboration that would benefit the people of Texas,” said TLTA Executive Vice President and CEO Leslie Midgely. “Our continued commitment to this important project is an additional way for our industry to assist the counties we serve throughout the state of Texas.”
In recognition of its important contributions to courthouse preservation, the TLTA received the THC’s 2015 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.
“The Texas Land Title Association’s tireless support for the preservation and conservation of Texas’ historic courthouses benefits all Texans, both culturally and economically,” said THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe at the October 2016 ceremony. “When we preserve our courthouses and other precious state historic resources, we generate significant economic benefit to our state and residents.”
In 2008, the THC introduced the Texas Courthouse Stewardship Awards to recognize counties that have established exemplary stewardship practices to maintain their courthouses in restored condition. The TLTA has sponsored this award since the program originated.
Potter County received last year’s award, thanks in part to the dedicated efforts of Mike Head, the county’s facilities manager. Head has worked in the county courthouse for several decades, and his passion for the structure played a key role in its successful restoration and ongoing maintenance.
“I’ve been working here 33 years, so I know this place pretty well by now,” he said. “It’s a beautiful old building, and I really enjoy having the opportunity to make sure it stays that way.”