Citizens continue voicing support for courthouse

(Pott. County Commission Meeting, July 3, 2017) | The Manhattan Mercury

Pottawatomie County commissioners Monday heard another plea to save the county courthouse at Westmoreland. Dru Clarke, rural St. George, said the courthouse, the second oldest in Kansas behind the Chase County Courthouse at Cottonwood Falls, is part of the area’s heritage. “We are all beneficiaries of proper care and that extends to stone buildings,” Clarke said, noting that many limestone buildings in Europe remain functional after hundreds of years. “What a shame it would be… if we don’t preserve this building or at least repurpose it.” Clarke is among several persons who have advocated for preservation of the courthouse after a recently-completed facilities master plan recommended replacing the 1884 structure with a new office building to consolidate county departments not located in several different locations. Her comments were also a prelude to a public informational meeting scheduled for Thursday to review the estimated costs of restoring the courthouse to functionality versus building a new office building. Thursday’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Sunflower Room, 612 E. Campbell St., Westmoreland. It will be preceded by an open house at the courthouse from 6 to 6:45 p.m. Clint Hibbs of BG Consultants, who developed the master plan, will present the information at the meeting. “I feel quite confident he is not biased one way or another,” Public Works Director Peter Clark told commissioners Monday. Hibbs, he said, has architectural experience in both restoring old structures and building new. “Is it going to boil down to just money”? Dru Clarke asked. “It’s more complicated than just dollars,” replied Commissioner Dee McKee. “The hardest part is we need space, and space that’s functional for offices. The stone wall configuration (of the courthouse) is not necessarily conducive to offices.” Commission Chairman Pat Weixelman said the question of whether or not to restore the courthouse may be put before voters in the November election. “The way I see this thing panning out is going to a vote in November,” Weixelman said. “If it’s going to be taxpayer dollars it ought to be a taxpayers’ decision.” County Counselor John Watt, however, has said that the result of an election would be advisory only and not binding on the commission.