What to do with 1899 courthouse?Published 3:29pm Monday, March 25, 2013
CASSOPOLIS — The Cass County Board of Commissioners has returned its attention to what to do with a “vintage courthouse.”
The downtown courthouse, deactivated nine years ago for a more secure Law and Courts Building on M-62 outside of the village, was on the commission’s list of goals it devoted to prioritizing Saturday morning.
One suggestion, from Terri Wyman at the road commission, is to create a clock tower plaza with remains of the 1899 courthouse, a la the historical arch at Edwardsburg Public Schools’ campus.
Or, it could be a destination restaurant. Or, 20,000 square feet of offices for community agencies, such as Minority Coalition, Historical Commission, CASA and Hope’s Door.
Or, a documents repository.
“Demolition needs to be taken off the table or we keep kicking the can down the road,” said Mike Moroz of Dowagiac, president of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, which is restoring the Bonine House outside Vandalia for heritage tourism.
“It’s an historic building that’s a perfect fit for Cassopolis and Cass County. It goes hand-in-hand with what we’re doing with the Bonine House,” Moroz said, “and hand-in-hand with what Pioneer Log Cabin Museum is doing to refurbish. If we work hard on these projects and, all of a sudden, the county tears down one of the biggest monuments, I wouldn’t want to be the administrator or on the board if it came down on your watch. This could be an economic generator, a destination, depending on what we do with it. People love history, and there’s big money in it.”
Not that Moroz would get much argument from some commissioners.
“I want that courthouse to stay. It’s the face of the county,” said former chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Milton Township. “It’s so solid, it could sit another 200 years and be like the pyramids.”
“My constituents say no, absolutely not,” agreed Commissioner Ann File, R-Cassopolis. “It’s an historic landmark they don’t want to see gone.”
County administrator Louis Csokasy said he wants to take a different approach to the problem.
“I’m simply proposing a fundamentally different approach with a committee of six to 10 people that develops four to six different proposed uses. We would not focus on cost, but what the use is. It presents these proposals to the board, which selects one. If your vision of Cass County is primarily agricultural, a restaurant is probably not a good idea. But if the vision includes a large lake population, it might fit.”
Csokasy said the board would identify the favored use, then allow the administration to develop the project from cost to its finished appearance.
“We’d bring that back to the board. At that point in time, the board would approve expenditure of funds — and where we get the funds. We can’t ‘go get a grant’ until we know what the building would be used for. A holistic solution takes so long because it determines what’s right not just for today.”