Commissioners give go-ahead for courthouse restoration

The movement toward reopening the vintage courthouse in downtown Cassopolis took a major step forward Thursday, as the Cass County Board of Commissioners voted to begin the process of allocating funds to stabilize the building.

The board approved the resolution with a roll call vote during its meeting last week, passing with a vote of 5 to 1. Commissioner Dixie Ann File was absence during the evening’s proceedings.

The resolution permits County Administrator Roger Fraser to begin searching for possible funding sources to cover the estimated $275,000 needed to remove mold and address other critical structural issues inside the courthouse. Such work is necessary before any preliminary restoration work can begin, county officials said.

The board has discussed the possibility of reopening the courthouse, which has been closed since 2003, for several months. The possibility of demolition has also been discussed in the past. The county estimates a $1.5 price tag for such work.

“I think we’re at the point of no return,” said Commissioner Clark Cobb, prior to the vote. “We’re either going to pay now or pay later, and paying later means the mold will become a bigger problem and there won’t be an option for saving it.”

Skip Dyes was the only commissioner present who voted against the resolution. He said his decision was based on a lack of clear direction laid out in the resolution for restoration plans.

“I hear from my constituents, ‘how can we move forward with this if we don’t know what we’re going to do with [the building]?’” Dyes said.

Dyes said he was concerned about attempts to garner popular support for the project without having an endgame already in place.

“I want that courthouse to stand,” Dyes said. “It would be a home run for this county. But it won’t be right unless we do it the right way.”

Commissioner Bernie Williamson said that despite the disagreement over the details, the board is onboard with the decision to proceed with renovation over demolition.

“There is a consistent commitment to the courthouse,” Williamson said. “The debate seems to be over the process that we follow. Everyone is simply trying to do the right thing, and they appreciate the historic courthouse and what it brings the county.”

 

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