County must take care in considering the fate of courthouse

Opinion | The Manhattan Mercury

The Pottawatomie County Courthouse is old, but does that make it worth preserving? County commissioners this week had an informational meeting at which an architect, Clint Hibbs of BG Consultants, told them that restoring and maintaining the 133-yearold Westmoreland building, the second oldest courthouse still in use in Kansas, would cost $3.64 million over 20 years. That was more expensive than the other options the county is considering. Razing the building and constructing a new one to match would cost about $3.37 million for the same period. Razing the courthouse and replacing it with a building of similar square footage would cost $2.6 million. Even if officials decide to preserve the old building, it would not meet the county’s long-term space needs, Mr. Hibbs told them. On top of that, the estimate does not include mitigation costs for removal of hazardous materials like asbestos and lead paint. But those arguments matter little to some people in Pottawatomie County who believe that the building is historic and should be saved. A group of citizens has started a grassroots effort to save the building. They’ve been circulating a petition and are applying to put the courthouse on the state register of historic places. They say the building, a boxy, two-story limestone structure, is significant for its age and for architectural details, such as outset keystones on its arched windows, which they say are a symbol of the branch of Masons who built the courthouse. It’s not yet clear whether that effort will succeed. According to the Kansas Historical Society, properties eligible for the register must retain their historic appearance, be at least 50 years old and have the potential to be documented as historically or architecturally significant. Properties that make the list are eligible for government financial incentives. Whether or not the building is accepted for the register, we’re glad that the county is taking its time and seeking public input in making this decision. It’s important to protect our historic resources. Once a building is gone, it’s gone forever, so we believe it’s generally better to err on the side of preservation. That said, not every building is worth saving., and historic buildings can be impractical to use and maintain. We hope Pottawatomie County will take all factors into consideration as it weighs the fate of the courthouse.