Mason County News
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County Looks at Tough Tradeoffs for Courthouse Renovation Funds
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 • Posted July 14, 2010

During Monday's meeting of the Mason County Commissioners' Court, much of the meeting was focused upon a meeting with Kim Williams of The Williams Company and Sharon Fleming, Project Coordinator for the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation grants. Much of what the commissioners heard during that meeting did not land easily upon their ears.

Mr. Williams has been preparing the detailed construction and restoration plans for the county as part of the earlier grant they received for planning purposes. During this phase, the county, working with The Williams Company, identifies all of the issues that are specific to restoring the century old Mason County courthouse, and determines possible solutions to those problems. In the case of Mason's structure, there were only a handful that related directly to the building itself.

Mechanical changes focused upon the air conditioning units, and the placement of those pieces of machinery. Ms. Fleming explained that the Texas Historical Commission prefers to find ways to "hide" such modern hardware. In Brady, that meant constructing a cooling plant at a distance from the courthouse and running the piping and electrical back into the building. This was not a good alternative for Mason County, according to Mr. Williams. However, Ms. Fleming noted that the THC did not like having the units up against the building as they are currently configured. She noted that greenery is used now to hide those units; but, informed the court that much of the existing plantings around the courthouse would have to be moved out and away from the building.

The THC had originally suggested moving the units behind the Law Enforcement building and the restroom building; but, Mr. Williams told the court that his engineers had discovered that that would place the units too far away from the main building to maintain their efficiency. Based upon that information, Ms. Fleming agreed that placement near the building may turn out to be the only option.

The next major issue concerns the elevator that was added to the building several years after its construction. The current unit does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, and is going to have to be replaced. Ms. Fleming explained that THC does not want to historically preserved public areas of the courthouse to be marred with polished steel doors, so THC proposed to The Williams Company a possible solution that involves recessing the elevator into an alcove off the main hallway. That would involve a reconfiguration of the County Treasurer's office; but, should meet the needs of all the parties involved.

The third issue does not involve the structure itself; but, rather, focuses on the courthouse grounds. All of the area within the fences are considered as part of the project, which means that modern structures on the grounds would need to be relocated elsewhere. The THC was not comfortable with the Law Enforcement Building and the restroom building; but, Ms. Fleming explained that they had decided that they would use those structures as the cutoff for determining modern construction. The two buildings would be allowed to remain; but, everything constructed after that period would need to be relocated.

That includes the information sign by the restrooms, the Traildriver statue, and the Veterans Memorial. Ms. Fleming noted that a flagpole would still be allowed, as it had been prior to the construction of the memorial.

The Court spent a good deal of time discussing this issue with Ms. Fleming, and explained that the community had made that memorial a focal point for many activities. She agreed that such tributes were extremely worthy; but, reminded the court that they had Heritage Park as a possible relocation site, and that such a move would provide a much more accessible spot for gatherings. She further explained that such discussions were not limited to Mason County, and gave as an example the many tributes that had covered the grounds of the State Capitol at one time. The State had finally began locating alternate locations for such tributes and honors so that they could return the grounds to a more historic appearance.

The Court discussed the possible logistics of such a move, which would involve taking out the concrete pad and sidewalk, and the transfer of the memorial markers to a newly constructed site. None of the court was pleased with the prospect of such a move.

It is important to remember that none of these changes are yet final. The court is still working with The Williams Company on their final plan which will still need to be submitted for consideration by THC for their next round of grants. Additionally, the Texas Legislature will have to fund that program, a difficult proposal in a year when the state is already looking at budget shortfalls in the billions of dollars.

After tending to other regular county business, the meeting adjourned at 12:35 p.m. The next regular meeting will be July 19.

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