Board to vote on commitment to preserve courthouse

Published 8:44 am Thursday, February 20, 2014

A flowchart developed by the county, which shows the potential paths the restoration project could take. Submitted graphic

A flowchart developed by the county, which shows the potential paths the restoration project could take. Submitted graphic

The first major decision in the countywide effort to restore the Cassopolis courthouse building will be made Thursday when the board of commissioners vote on whether to commit funds to stabilize the building.

The seven commissioners will vote on a resolution that would allow the county administrator to investigate possible funding for the projected $275,000 removal of mold that has grown inside the courthouse since it was closed to public more than a decade ago. The resolution was approved by a vote before the board during a meeting of the committee as a whole two weeks ago, and also received approval by the ad hoc committee devoted to the courthouse’s restoration on Wednesday.

“This [resolution] does not authorize the spending of the money,” said Commissioner Robert Ziliak, the chair of the restoration committee. “However, I think that the county can find the money if they need to find the money.”

The county has been dealing with the issue of restoring the old courthouse for public use for the past several months. However, a number of commissioners see restoration of the building as the proper course, especially since demolition of the building is expected to cost around $1.5 million.

“We are already committed to that building one way or another,” said Commissioner Bernie Williamson. “We either need to take care of it or we need to take it down, and the longer we wait, the more we’re going to spend.”

However, a number of people present during Wednesday’s meeting of the courthouse committee criticized the resolution, as it lacked a clear plan for funding and managing any potential renovations to the building.

“I don’t see any teeth in this [resolution],” said Commissioner Skip Dyes. “The people of my district need a plan.”

While Dyes said he is in favor of selling the idea of restoration to his constituents, he asked the rest of the board to come up with a concrete roadmap on how to proceed with such an expansive and potentially expensive project.

However, others involved in the committee said that further delay on the decision would allow conditions of the mothballed building to decline even further.

“In my opinion, you can’t develop a full plan unless we get in there,” said Mike Moroz, a member of the committee. “And you can’t get an engineer in there unless you get the mold out of there.”

In order to help outline to the public what directions the project might take, County Administrator Roger Fraser and other county officials created a flowchart of potential outcomes.

“We want you to understand the depth and the scope that this [project] could potentially be,” Fraser said.

The committee also discussed the creation of a subcommittee to tally the results of the questionnaires they distributed to the public, asking for input on what the county should do with the courthouse. Cass County residents have until Feb. 28 to turn in their forms, which are available online on the county’s website.