An extensive, nearly $1.8-million facelift for the historic Flathead County Courthouse is on track to begin this year in the fall or winter, after Flathead County Commission voted to sign off on the project’s environmental assessment last week.
The project is intended to renovate the public spaces in the 107-year-old courthouse and highlight its historic attributes, such as the main staircase. The courthouse is registered on the National Register of Historical Places, and the county stated it intends to preserve the remarkable nature of the building.
Crews will also fix cracks and imperfections in the exterior façade, install an elevator and bathrooms to meet the Americans with Disability Act standards, modify the building to meet fire safety standards and install energy efficient windows.
CTA Architects and Engineers was hired to design and manage the project.
The May 25 public hearing on the environmental assessment went quickly because no members of the public spoke on the issue. The hearing was mandatory, however, because the county will use $50,000 in historic preservation funds from HB 645, the stimulus bill.
Despite the lack of public participation, Commissioner Dale Lauman voiced his approval of the project.
“I fully support the renovation of the courthouse as an old person who’s interested in the old,” Lauman said, laughing. “It’s a wonderful project.”
To pay for the project’s $1,760,570 price tag, the county will use the $50,000 in stimulus funds, $126,300 in funds from the Department of Energy for the windows, $210,000 from the Flathead County Museum Board and $1,374,267 will come from the county’s building fund. The building fund currently has a $3 million balance, according to County Administrator Mike Pence.
Flathead County Planning Director Jeff Harris told the commissioners that the project’s only disadvantage found in the environmental assessment would be a displacement of county services.
The courthouse, built in 1903, currently houses the county’s clerk and recorder’s office, plat room, GIS management office, election department, finance office and human resources department.
The workers would need to be moved during the interior construction phase, Harris noted, and the public will need some direction on where to find them. Otherwise, the environmental assessment was positive, Harris said.
The original plan for the building funds was to construct an entirely new $4-million building to house county offices, Pence said at the May 25 meeting. However, taking the current economy into consideration, the county decided to put the funds toward renovating the courthouse and the Blue Building, which houses the Department of Motor Vehicles, the treasurer’s office and the superintendent of school’s office.
The combined renovations have presented a bit of a logistical problem, Pence said in a later interview, because the employees in the Blue Building will be relocated during the construction.
This means the employees in the courthouse need to stay put until the Blue Building employees are back in their original office which won’t happen until December, Pence said, so there is not yet a concrete schedule for construction on the courthouse.
Tentatively, work on the courthouse’s exterior should begin in the fall or winter, Pence said, and the interior work could begin in the winter after the holidays.
The project’s design and environmental assessment are available online at the county’s website at www.flathead.mt.gov, located in the commissioner and planning and zoning department sites.
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