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Jacksonville courthouse to remain public space

Second-floor space in the former Jackson County Courthouse, now Jacksonville’s new City Hall, will remain in public use as an assembly room, Jacksonville City Council decided Tuesday, after Britt Festivals said it no longer wanted to pursue moving into the location.

Britt gave the city a letter of intent in August asking to lease the 2,800-square-foot space for 15 years. Britt informed the city Oct. 9 that its board of directors had decided not to follow up on the letter of intent.

City Council unanimously approved moving forward with a design for the space, the former Jackson County courtroom. It also approved development of a budget to finish the project and create guidelines for use.

“Any consideration to rent the second floor didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem right to split it between government and a nonprofit business,” said Councilor Ken Gregg. “It was originally built as a public building, and it has always been available to the public. I just thought it was time to return it to its original usage.”

After the city received the building in 2012, Gregg advocated for public use rather than selling it. Even when it served as a Southern Oregon Historical Society museum it was available to the public, he said.

“Folks have been all over the place on where they are at on the room,” said City Administrator Jeff Alvis. Council had decided in August, after hearing Britt’s request, to look at the best use for the room. During the study period speakers both for and against the lease idea addressed the council, and Alvis heard from a number of citizens with varying opinions.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s second floor served as the county’s courtroom for 44 years. The space has large windows and a tall, vaulted ceiling.

“We have options. Some of them might work out as better options for Britt. We wish the city of Jacksonville the very best,” said Donna Briggs, Britt president and executive director.

Some other possibilities have emerged in Jacksonville, although the festival is also looking elsewhere, Briggs has said. Lease on its downtown Medford headquarters is up at the end of 2020.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior standards for treatment of historic properties emphasize that building use should be compatible with the purposes for which they were built, Joelle Harris, an architect with ZCS Engineering and Architecture, wrote to the city in a letter on recommended uses of public spaces. Impacts of spaces and materials are reduced if changes are made to the way they were experienced historically, the guidelines state. ZCS prepared the renderings.

“In my opinion, the second floor should be a space that is accessible to and enjoyed by the community and the public at large,” Harris wrote. “It is also, quite simply, a stunning room that would be a shame if the community at large was prohibited from visiting it.”

Elevator installation is now underway, which will allow the public to use the space. ADA regulations had prohibited access since the city took possession. Renovation for first-floor administrative use was done in 2016.

Ausland Group, which handled the previous renovation and seismic upgrade, was awarded a contract to install elevators and new second-story restrooms for $419,900. That work has now started.

Plans call for Ausland to finish construction of the elevator space and work on the second story by the end of December, Alvis said. Elevators will be ordered after the space is finished and the dimensions measured. They will then be manufactured, with installation targeted for April 2020.

Construction of a new plaza space on the backside of the building is now finished except for the installation of benches and landscaping. Work has begun on installation of an outside stairway to the second floor. During construction, public restrooms in the new City Hall will be closed, but others are available behind the former jail next to the building.

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

The historic Jacksonville Courthouse