Questionnaire in works for Cass courthouse restoration

Published 9:17 am Thursday, January 23, 2014

The group of local men and women devoted to saving the century-old courthouse in downtown Cassopolis will be collecting public input about the project over the next several weeks.

The courthouse preservation committee is currently putting the final touches on a questionnaire for county residents. The committee plans on distributing the form both physically and electronically, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible.

One of the purposes of the questionnaire is to determine the current level of support for the project from the public, as well as to determine possible uses for the space if the building is restored.

“Once we know what people have to say about the project, we can get a better of idea of how we can go about finding the money to pay for it,” said Bernie Williamson, one of the members of the committee.

Williamson is one of three members of the Cass County Board of Commissioners serving on the committee, along with Roseann Marchetti and Robert Ziliak, who serves as chair of the body. A number of concerned citizens are also serving on the committee, in hopes of seeing the courthouse reopened to the public.

“Public input is absolutely necessary,” said Mike Moroz, the head of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County. “I think the questionnaire is a great idea.”

The committee said they are cognizant of the concerns the public have concerning the project and its potential price tag. County government faced controversy several years ago, after the county found an alternative method of funding the construction of its current courthouse after a millage for it was voted down.

The most significant step the committee still faces is paying the estimated $275,000 in remediation costs to stabilize the courthouse’s current condition. The work will buy the county another year to determine how to restore the building, before mold damage already sustained to the building escalates even further.

“If it were up to me, I would be voting to spend the $275,000 to start preserving that courthouse, and worry about where that money is coming from at a later day,” Ziliak said. “We have to take care of it, we can’t let it ride.”

While the final decision on whether to spend the money on the project will ultimately fall on the board of commissioners, members of the committee said that public opinion will continue to play a major role as the project moves forward.

“The commissioners have to involved, of course, but it has to come from the community,” Marchetti said. “You’re the sparkplugs. We’ll do what we can to back you up, but it has to come from the community.”

The committee plans to compile results from the finalized questionnaire in mid-February.