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Moving in on history

JACKSONVILLE — Government offices were set up in the 1883 Jackson County Courthouse for the first time in nine decades Wednesday as city workers moved furniture, files, computers and office equipment into the renovated building.

A white, painted sign proclaiming “Jacksonville City Hall” matched the wooden entryway in appearance. Southern Oregon Historical Society used the same sign board when it occupied the structure.

“We tried to do everything to keep it matching,” said City Administrator Jeff Alvis.

County government moved from Jacksonville to Medford in 1927, ending government occupancy of the building. Jackson County gave the building to the city in the fall of 2012. SOHS stopped using it as a museum in 2010, a function it had fulfilled from the 1950s. During the 1930s and 1940s, it was used for occasional dances and by civic groups such as Boy Scouts and The Grange.

Some citizens questioned early plans to use it as City Hall, but Mayor Paul Becker championed the effort as a way to preserve history and provide a new home for city offices.

“They saved the building. That’s the biggest thing,” said resident Larry Smith. “The county had no interest in it. By … getting a new purpose, they have saved it for another 100 years. I’m really glad to see it.”

City offices were closed Wednesday and will be closed again Thursday. Workers in shorts and casual dress arranged desks and contents while firemen and Public Works crews moved heavier items.

“I think it will be a great feeling having a civic campus, having all the offices right in the center of Jacksonville,” said Finance Director Stacey Bray. Bray moved records she needed to keep secure, as well as a plant, in her own car. Bray’s new office is in the original vault room.

Interior walls and the high ceilings of the original building were retained. Original wainscoting from 1883 was refinished. Fireplaces in offices were kept, although heating and air conditioning are part of the rework.

Two photos, each about 12-by-12 feet, which show Peter Britt’s garden and home, part of an SOHS display, were left on the wall of a space that will likely be used for meetings.

Project costs have come in about $105,000 less than the $979,700 the city borrowed for the project. The loan will be repaid from tax revenue generated by the city’s urban renewal district.

Savings were realized because the city acted as its own contractor and was willing to wait for craftsmen to work when they were available, said Alvis.

Seismic retrofitting to improve earthquake resistance cost $210,00, $90,000 less than anticipated. Engineering studies found the structure to be more substantial than originally thought. Installation of mechanical, plumbing and electrical services was about $176,000 under estimates.

“All the stuff you can’t see is what costs the money,” said Alvis.

But greater costs for fire protection and miscellaneous contingencies reduced total savings, as did the need for $40,000 in flooring. Original wood flooring from 1883 existed in the new mayor's office and was matched throughout the rest of the ground floor except for the carpeted main hallway.

“It’s euphoria. It has been a long process to get from where we started when we got the building to where we are now,” Becker said Wednesday. Becker will have his own office. He previously shared space with Alvis. When he’s not in the office, it will be used as a conference room.

The second floor with its large courtroom remains unfinished. Foot-wide steel plates that tie the floor to the building’s walls for seismic reinforcement are visible. Use of the second floor will require installation of an elevator, estimated to cost about $250,000.

Funds for the elevator may come from the sale of the former City Hall, the Miller House. A transaction that meets the City Council’s minimum price of $400,000 is now in escrow.

After workers settle in, an open house will be scheduled for the public.

Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Mayor Paul Becker takes a stroll Wednesday through the recently renovated 1883 courthouse in Jacksonville. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Office materials are moved Wednesday into the renovated 1883 Jacksonville courthouse, the new home of City Hall. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch