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MailTribune.com
  • Costs to renovate historic building could double

    Resident says Jacksonville should sell 1883 courthouse
  • JACKSONVILLE — Costs to turn the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse into a new city hall and events space are underestimated by nearly $1 million, said resident Russ Kennedy, who suggests selling the structure.
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  • JACKSONVILLE — Costs to turn the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse into a new city hall and events space are underestimated by nearly $1 million, said resident Russ Kennedy, who suggests selling the structure.
    "I think it's an absolutely low-ball financial presentation," said Kennedy, who on Monday emailed a five-page critique of a project report and offered alternatives to 36 recipients.
    "Right now (Mayor) Paul Becker and others are desirous of preserving a full historic monument, and they are not particularly looking at costs," Kennedy said.
    A report by PARC Resources estimated the conversion could be done for $949,000. The report was the subject of a City Council study session July 30.
    Jacksonville received the building from Jackson County in November 2012.
    Becker and City Administrator Jeff Alvis characterized the PARC report as a preliminary look to determine the best use of the building, and it will be followed by more detailed studies.
    "Now that we have a direction, we can see if the council approves that direction," said Alvis. "Then we will be able to fine-tune it ... and get a good number on it."
    Since emailing his analysis, Kennedy said he's received a dozen calls or emails of support.
    Among issues raised by Kennedy are the estimated cost to refurbish the courthouse. The estimate of $949,000 — $83 per square foot — ignores the age of the building. Kennedy said the cost would likely be double the estimate, and he called a $70,000 contingency fund unrealistic.
    In addition, the report does not address use of three other buildings, totaling 6,000 square feet, on the courthouse campus, he said. Rehabilitation of those buildings could run from $300,000 to $600,000, he estimated.
    The 1,800-square-foot Miller House, which serves as City Hall, is used by eight full-time staffers, and Kennedy said the same number would move into 6,000 square feet on the courthouse's ground floor.
    The PARC report also does not address courthouse operating costs compared to current facilities, Kennedy wrote in his assessment, and the report lacks a list of high-risk factors in rehabilitation.
    PARC estimated that rental of the event space on the 6,000-square-foot second floor would generate about $4,000 annually above costs, but Kennedy said that's a poor return on investment, and the use would require city staff time.
    Kennedy also criticized a capitalization plan for a lack of debt financing costs. The PARC report said the city would need to take on $600,000 in debt, with grants funding most of the remaining costs.
    Council members did not do their homework before the study session, Kennedy wrote, noting a lack of questions about financial issues and few comments.
    Becker defended the council and said it has exercised due diligence.
    "None of these numbers are hard numbers by any means," said Becker. "We need time to develop, as close as possible, estimated costs. The council has more studying to do. This is not going to be immediate."
    Two building inspectors and a cemetery sexton also use the Miller House part time, said Alvis.
    Becker is at City Hall most mornings, where he and Alvis share office space.
    "I don't plan to raise a cent in taxes," said Becker. "This has got to be done with grants and urban renewal. If we move the city offices, we would probably sell (the Miller House)."
    Kennedy recommended alternatives, including leasing office space needed for City Hall functions and selling the courthouse complex to a commercial buyer who would preserve the building. He noted that the owners of Bigham Knoll have preserved the 1908 Jacksonville School.
    "I think Russ has got some very good points. There needs to be some more investigation," said former City Councilman Jerry Mathern.
    Besides City Hall, the Jacksonville Police Department could move to the former jail on the courthouse campus, said Mathern, who likes the idea of moving City Hall into the courthouse.
    "Basically they need to liquidate many of the other buildings they have, then get City Hall into that building," said Mathern.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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