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State gives go-ahead for seismic work on historic courthouse

Seismic work for conversion of the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse into City Hall is out to bid after a state agency determined the rehabilitation project would not adversely affect the historic structure.

City officials are also looking at installing a courtyard sprinkler system and putting in new service lines, projects that will be handled by city crews to help keep costs down.

“We wanted to make sure the (cost) numbers are coming in good on the seismic and the sprinklers,” said City Administrator Jeff Alvis.

Jacksonville was given the courthouse by Jackson County in 2012. The city plans to use up to $1 million in urban renewal funding for the rehabilitation, which may include an exterior elevator to meet current codes.

State law requires public buildings proposed for renovation to be reviewed. The State Historic Preservation Office, which considers both interior and exterior changes, notified the city Jan. 28 that it found the work to be appropriate for the historic structure.

“We looked pretty closely at that with the intention of trying to make the impact as little as possible,” said preservation specialist Jason Allen of the SHPO. “We went over some potential outcomes with (architect) Gary (Collins). That approach is probably the best we can hope for.”

Work going out for bid includes limited demolition; installation of seismic anchors and steel channels and connections; installation of plywood, strapping and reinforcing hardware; and limited repair work. Bids are due by Feb. 26 and work is to be completed by June 15. A mandatory pre-bid meeting and site inspection was planned today at the courthouse.

“That way all the contractors can get all the questions," said Alvis.

The City Council approved the first phase of the courthouse's restoration in October following a presentation by Collins, who did preliminary plans.

Costs include $300,000 for seismic and structure design and work, $78,000 for fire protection design and installation and $62,000 for approved building drawings. A firm to handle final design work is now being sought, Alvis said.

SHPO’s archaeological database indicates there may be cultural artifacts buried on the courthouse grounds. A cultural resources survey will need to be conducted to identify the location, boundaries and significance of any cultural remains in the project area before ground-disturbing activities can begin. 

Approval from the town’s Historical and Architectural Review Commission for the project will be sought when the body meets on Feb. 25, Alvis said.

“We are very happy to have a new program in there,” Allen said. “An occupied building is more likely to be maintained and cared for.”

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.