YORK COUNTY, S.C. – The York County Council spent the majority of Monday night’s meeting discussing the future of its courthouse, which has been out of commission for over a year. But the issue has proven to be more complicated than simply renovating the 100-year-old building.
The building was cleared out in order to remove asbestos and lead-based paint last year, and has remained vacant ever since.
Although little progress has been made toward a decision either to continue the renovation efforts or build a new courthouse, a presentation by Cumming Construction Management, which is advising the county on the project, provided a clearer picture moving forward.
The county’s biggest problem is the overwhelming cost of both options. Cumming compared renovation costs to that of replacing the building, and estimated the prospects at $9.1 million and $9.6 million, respectively. These estimates were based on schematic design plans done by North Carolina-based Stuart-Cooper-Newell Architects.
The county has about $4 million reserved for the courthouse project, which is forcing County Council members to find ways to cut costs.
The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the preservation of historic buildings in South Carolina, has offered to help York County find a contractor that specializes in historic renovations and offer a better deal. The organization’s executive director, Mike Bedenbaugh, has urged the County Council to consider the trust’s advice at the past two council meetings.
In response to Chairman Dr. Britt Blackwell’s statement, “do it right if you’re going to do it,” regarding the potential options for the courthouse, Bedenbaugh said: “You’re absolutely right.”
“If you’re going to do it right, you have to have those experts come in and show you what they can do,” Bedenbaugh said.
This proposal had council members agreeing on hiring a vertically integrated contractor, meaning all the necessary professionals – architects, engineers and construction workers – would be part of an umbrella company.
Bedenbaugh also said the courthouse could be renovated for about $150 per square foot, based on a survey of the building done by Ed Lipsky, whose company, Rehab Builders Inc. in Winston-Salem, specializes in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Cumming’s $9.1 million renovation estimate equates to $276 per square foot.
Cumming also estimated a third option, which was to move the courthouse about three miles west of its current location to near the Moss Justice Center, where employees previously working in the courthouse have been since it was closed. This was estimated by Cumming to be the most expensive of the three options, at $9.9 million.
But this location sits outside the town’s historic district, and moving the courthouse was heavily opposed by council members and community members who spoke at the meeting, because they wanted the building to remain in town.
“Build right here on the same block, because it’s right here in the heart of the county,” said Councilman Bruce Henderson.
Another concern expressed by the council was that renovating the courthouse, or building a new one at the existing site, would not provide enough space and its location would make it difficult to expand in the future.
Councilman Curwood Chappell indicated the council was getting ahead of itself by considering an expansion.
“We’re not talking about expanding the courthouse,” Chappell said. “We’re talking about keeping the courthouse the courthouse.”
In other action at its meeting, the council unanimously approved the first of three readings for the rezoning of 20 acres from rural urban to residential conservation behind Oakridge Middle School along S.C. Highway 557.
Evergreen Land Partners LLC is proposing a 20-lot subdivision on the property for single-family homes, and is planning for 30 percent of the site to be open space. The planning commission unanimously approved a recommendation for the rezoning of the property at its meeting Oct. 13.