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Britt move to historic Jacksonville courtroom under study

Britt Music Festival has proposed leasing the second floor of Jacksonville’s new City Hall, located in the historic former Jackson County Courthouse, for office use. But City Council voted Aug. 20 to create a mission statement for the space that would inform future use and any decision on Britt’s letter of intent.

“The decision should not be based on money. We need to really discuss and research what are the options to do up there,” said Councilor Ken Gregg. “Bring in consultants. Develop a mission statement, a guide where to go.”

“Don’t restrict it by relinquishing the use of a public building for a single entity. Historically it’s been open to the public,” said Councilor Steve Casaleggio. He said the space could accommodate many different types of group sessions.

City staff was directed to devise a process for mission statement creation after a motion to accept Britt’s letter of intent and to develop a contract was voted down.

Multiple speakers noted the uniqueness of the large upstairs area with its 14-foot-tall ceiling, high windows and history as the space that was used for Jackson County court proceedings from 1883 to 1927.

Installation of an elevator to the second floor in the near future will allow its use, which has been precluded by ADA regulations ever since the city remodeled the 1883 structure and occupied the lower floor in 2016. Jackson County in 2012 gave the courthouse to the city, which reworked the building to meet seismic requirements, update utility systems and finish the downstairs space.

“This is something that has been thought about and discussed for at least 10 years,” said Britt President and Chief Executive Office Donna Briggs in a presentation before council deliberations. Britt would need to be able to move into the space by fall 2020 at the latest, as its lease in Medford expires at the end of that year. Britt has been unable to locate space for relocation to Jacksonville after an exhaustive search, said Briggs.

Britt would construct a box office space on the floor along with offices. Drop-down ceiling panels over workstations would allow the public to continue to view the high ceiling and windows. The second-floor courtroom measures 41 by 68 feet. Improvements would be paid for by the organization, which would also have to make arrangements for utility costs and other expenses.

Britt proposed a 15-year lease at $18,000 annually with an option to extend for another 15 years. The organization would contribute $100,000 toward elevator and second-floor restroom construction. Britt has a full-time staff of 13 and adds another three workers during the festival season, Briggs told the council.

An interior floor plan attached to the letter of intent shows a mail room, break rooms and details of box office and glass-walled office spaces in the main room. An informal meeting space would be constructed in a front-facing space that includes a fireplace hearth.

A two-elevator system is planned, one going from the ground level to the first floor, the other from the first floor to the second. Previous plans called for one elevator attached to the rear of the building to serve all floors. That would have resulted in a tall addition to the building’s rear and two new entrances penetrating the historic structure, said City Administrator Jeff Alvis.

The town’s Historical and Architectural Review Commission had previously approved a design for an outside, three-stop elevator, a requirement for modification to the exteriors of historic structures.

Ausland Group, which performed seismic work on the building, has submitted a proposal to add both elevators and to install bathrooms on the second floor. Alvis said he will present the proposal, which totals about $400,000, to the council for approval at the Sept. 2 meeting.

During July, council approved contacts for exterior work on and around the building. A rear exterior plaza will be installed for $49,500 by Cut N Break Construction. John’s Repairs LLC will design and build an outside stairway to the second floor for $91,370.

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

Downtwn Jacksonville is a busy place during the town's annual Victorian Christmas celebration, which kicks off Thanksgiving weekend.