(Kansas Historic Sites) Board Adds Courthouse to National Register

(Pott. County Commission Meeting, November 20, 2017) | The Manhattan Mercury

State officials now have a voice in the future of the Pottawatomie County Courthouse at Westmoreland. The Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review voted Saturday to place the 133- year-old courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places. The vote was 5-0, with one abstention. The vote essentially gives the review board input over any changes to the structure—from improvements or expansions to demolition—but does not require upgrades to the building, said Patrick Zollner, deputy state historic preservation officer with the Kansas Historical Society. “Under the state preservation statute (KSA 75-2724), our office would review any project to the courthouse to determine if the project would ‘damage or destroy’ the listed property,” Zollner said. “The law provides for the local governing authority (the county) to overrule our determination if it finds that there are no feasible and prudent alternatives to the proposed project.” The courthouse, built in 1884, was nominated for the National Register by Citizens for Courthouse Conservation (CCC*), a group of county residents who have called for preservation of the building. Dorothy Campbell, Westmoreland, and Brenda Spencer, rural Wamego, were listed as sponsors of the nomination. The Pottawatomie County Commission voted unanimously last week to oppose the listing, saying the move could tie its hands in planning for future facilities needs for the county. “For the voters in my county, I’m disappointed because we were simply asking for more time to plan and look at options, before they came to a point where they would impose the historical register upon the county as an additional obstacle,” said Commissioner Dee McKee. McKee spoke against the listing at Saturday’s hearing in the Kansas Museum of History at Topeka. Several county residents spoke in favor of the listing. CCC* members told county commissioners Monday their intent was not to tie the hands of county government, but to help restore the courthouse to functionality. “This effort was not to antagonize the commission or to tie your hands,” said Brenda Spencer. Spencer, owner of Spencer Preservation, said the county is the ultimate authority over the future of the courthouse. “There are no teeth in the state preservation law,” she said. “We’re not gloating over this,” said CCC* member Dru Clarke, rural St. George. “We really would like to work with you to find the funds to make the courthouse meet your future needs.” Westmoreland Weekly Period The Manhattan Mercury NovemMarch 20 ber 21, 1, 2017 884 Clarke said Broderick FCE, a county Extension unit, has voted to make the courthouse restoration a community service project, noting there are other local groups interested in assisting. The debate over preservation of the courthouse began several months ago when a study concluded that replacing the structure with a new consolidated office building was the most cost-effective means of meeting the county’s long-range facilities needs. The commission has taken no action regarding the study. Properties listed on the National Register are automatically listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places and thus may qualify for state tax credits and the Heritage Trust Fund grant program, according to Zollner. The Heritage Trust Fund awards 80/20 matching grants of up to $90,000 annually for restoration of structures listed on the state register. *CCC, not CCFC